So I just watched through out 8th-story window the sun set on the KOSMOS hotel in north Moscow at 10:30pm, and summer is just starting. I reckon in the full swing of summer it wont get dark until around 11.
Backing up a bit, visiting Kharkov was a great experience. 3 days is much too short to do that city justice, especially when between the 2 of us we have a year and a half of living there. Poor Paige only got to see one of "her people" but at least it was the amazingly nice lady that she taught and "baptized". We were able to visit a few of "my people", including the Shmatovs, the Nadenenkos, and Lyona, husband to Lyudmilla, both of whom I took part in finding, teaching, and baptizing, who happen to be married now. This turn of events still blows my mind. We found Lyuda TRACTING for heaven's sake! She let us in and told us not to come back! It's like one of those stories they paint a melodramatic painting about in the Ensign! AND SHE MARRIED THE GUY I HELPED QUIT SMOKING AND DRINKING! I'm still reeling. Anyway...
So Kharkov was great, although it was marred a bit by some weird mood swings and such which I'll get back to later. Once our few days were up, we checked out of the apartment we were renting (which I forgot to take a picture of, it was very Euro-contemporary-- or at least the Ukrainian idea of "Euro-contemporary" which is pretty funny), and took the metro to the train station. We ended up sharing a coupe (a room with 4 bunks) with a couple who were on their way to Iran, if I understood them correctly, and who were also absolutely floored when we told them where we were from. It has been interesting experiencing Ukraine and Russia as non-missionaries and essentially separate from the church. The vast majority of current Ukrainian members were introduced to and brought into the church through the missionaries, and so they are already used to usual stuff: Americans come here, they study Russian, they get fluent-ish at it, and they go home, business as usual. For outsiders, though, some of them can be literally astonished that we "speak so well". The girl with whom we rode on the train couldn't stop telling how crazy it was that there were 2 random Americans who both spoke "as if Russian was their first language". I'm not saying this to brag, really (a little), but more as an observation of how foreign we really are here. I don't know if there's an American equivilant since were so used to people from everywhere, so I wont try to construct some kind of weirdo analogy.
And so we rode on another train, except this was the first I had ever ridden that had to cross a border. A Ukrainian army official took our departure immigration cards and stamped our passports out of Ukraine at the train station in Kharkov before we left (after trying to act all tough: "Why'd you get here so late?!" he asks while flipping through my passport as if it was a pertinant question. The train wasn't scheduled to leave for another 10 minutes.) but I wasn't sure what would happen on the way into Russia. It turned out pretty much like in Anastasia when the scary army official comes into the coupe and examines your passport except we weren't amnesiac Russian princesses traveling with fake documents. So some people came in, the Ukrainians' passports got stamped right away, and of course they had to yell down the corridor that there were 2 passengers from the US so all the other border agents could come goggle at our passport pictures and laugh at the fact that we're still allowed to smile in them or something, I dunno. Everything checked out though, and we got stamped in. My passport, by the way, is looking quite exotic with 2 visas now and a bunch of Ukrainian city registrations.
We arrived in Moscow after way too long in a 7-foot-square room to be met by a Russian kid no older than us in full dreadlocks who called himself "Andrew" and spoke English with a full-on English accent. That's the way they're taught pretty much everywhere. You might get some more American-sounding English if they've studied abroad in America. Thankfully, Andrew had a taxi for us and whisked us off to our nothern-ish apartment on Prospekt Mira next to the Metro station VDNKh which in Russian is pronounced as if it was a word: "Vadankha". VDNKh stands for something that I have no idea, but there is a huge monument to the Kosmonaut program right across the street from us, and the impressive Moscow TV Tower a couple miles away which is big and also huge. Our babushkan host lady's name is Oksana and she's been hosting punk kids in her actually incredibly nice apartment for over 10 years now. In fact, the only complaint I have so far is the bed feels like you're sleeping directly on top of the springs, but I plan to remedy that fairly easily. Luckily for Paige, she likes mayonaise, but never uses it because it's fattening, and luckily for me, she didn't take it personal when, as we were sitting down for our first dinner of fish and salad we explained that I hated fish. The hotel KOSMOS, where Paige and her parents stayed for a few days after they picked her up from her mission is literally 100 yards away from our window. I like to watch the Russian kids try to skateboard in the courtyard there because I think I'm better than most of them which is really funny.
The first night we were here, we were really bored because it turns out we're not missionaries anymore and don't have to do everything including brushing our teeth on a schedule so we went to go see Star Trek in Russian. We hunted down one of the Moskovski movie theaters that plays movies in their original languages, but it was closed for repairs, so we settled for a regular old Russian theater in a mall somewhere. Our tickets cost 700 rubles which is roughly equal to a billion, trillion dollars or something. Aside from the usual Star Trek techno-babble, we did pretty good, I think, except the whole Scotty introduction with his little friend was way over my head. Either it was too much to take in all at once so I missed the dialog or whatever, I don't know, but it seemed like they were just like "Oh yeah, and here's Scotty, he's in this little shack and now he's Chief Engineer--SPOOOOOCK!"
Which is an excellent segway into today, our first day of school. We are on the complete opposite side of the city from school, oddly enough, so our morning Metro ride consists of 1 line transfer and like 60,000 metro stops. It takes us about 45 minutes to get from our stop to the school's. As an aside, I would like to address New York City as a whole: Your subway sucks. Trains are random, the lines are freaking crazy and have no real layout, your stops are rotting pieces of junk, and there's traffic. Underground. Also, there's a severe lack of officially comissioned Soviet architecture and decoration. The metros here in the former USSR are freaking astounding and they know it so they take good care of them.
Anyway, school! The grounds are pretty nice as far as Russian schools go, and we have plenty of facilities there with cafeterias, stores, and other little places. We have our own classroom where we can hang out and stuff. They essentially divided everyone up into 2 groups: those who have only a few classes of Russian, and those who have internships. Listening to them explain the internships was interesting and I'm kinda glad I don't have one. They essentially work as many hours a week as they want and don't get paid for it, but they're all business, economics, law, or translation majors, so they get "experience" to put on their "resume" or something. Paige and I, however, couldn't possibly care less about any of that and are more interested with things that are actually interesting like the arts, writing, culture, and not working for free, and we don't have internships. Thankfully it's not like we're the only troublemakers as there is one other guy there who's in the same boat as us. The intern guys get to have Russian class too, but only twice a week instead of 4 times, like the beginners, so at the end of the day the Russian teachers were kinda like "Ok! You 3 will just meet with these guys when they have class twice a week BYE!" This naturally made us a little nervous because that would mean 5-day weekends every week, and while I would almost welcome this in America, in Moscow, I have neither the money, nor the cultural know-how to fill that much free time. After a good few hours of being worried and disenfranchised, we finally called our director and he explained that they're going to set up another day of class just for the 3 of us, so we shouldn't be too busy or too bored, I think. Paige is getting restless regardless and wants to start being a student as soon as possible. I'm just kinda along for the ride.
And so our adventure begins and my blog entries get longer and longer. Here in the shadow of the Soviet Union and the KOSMOS hotel, we begin our 90-ish-day-give-or-take-a-week study of the Russian language in Moscow. At the end of the day, I guess I'm just excited they have movie theaters that play movies in English. Now if I can find a place to download the last couple episodes of Lost and get some kind of internet connection in the apartment, I'll be all set.