Thursday, July 12, 2007

Exploring The City

I have been spending a lot of my free time exploring the city center in more detail. While I had a general idea of the general geography of the central part of the city, I wanted get a feel for the shops and cafes. To do this, I started to take the side streets off of Soviet St. and see what they had to offer.

Soviet St. and its environs are the commercial heart of the city and filled with various casinos and cafes. Much of it, I suspect, is to cater to a growing number of foreign visitors. For instance, one office block is proudly labeled, in English, “Business Center.” The cafes are a tad more expensive, but not radically so. A .5L glass of a local beer will cost 2hr (+25 kopeks for a glass!) while a bottle of Tuborg will cost 5hr in the beer garden. A glass of local brew will cost 7hr and a Stella will set you back 9hr. I have been paying the extra hrivnias to sit in a café as the lighting tends to be better, so I can read.

At one café, across from the Central Square, two young people struck up a conversation with me. Vladimir is a medical school graduate, working to do his residency in the US; Slava is a graduate of Quinnipiac College in CT. Both are natives of Luhansk. They were quite apologetic about disturbing me, but I was happy to chat with them. We discussed politics (US and Ukrainian), the virtues of various US cities (Slava has been to Jim’s in Philly and is a big cheese steak booster), and some suggestions for my trip to Rome. When it was time to leave, they not only bought the beer, but paid for our taxi home. I have Vladimir’s phone number and Slava has my e-mail, and I really hope to catch up with them again.

Across the street is a restaurant/bar that has live music. Apparently, it is known for having good rock n’ roll bands. The band I have heard there (apparently a house band) is very good. Their guitar player in particular can really rock. The downside of this café is the price. A Cuba Libre is 35hr and a Mojito is 39hr, which translates to $7 for a drink, which is not bad for the US, but when compared to the $1 I pay for a .5L of “peeva”, it is pretty steep. Needless to say, I do not frequent this place, but I do like the band.

The biggest find, however, is the imaginatively named Tea-Coffee Café. It serves coffee and tea, as the name implies, and a variety of excellent pastries. It has apparently been there for several years, which means I walked past it dozens of times (my inability to read Russian has made even conspicuously named places impossible to decipher). I would have never figured it out, but I was talking about my coffee problems to my students and one told me about two (!) coffee houses in the Central Square area. The Tea-Coffee Café makes a good latte and is a pretty comfortable place to spend an hour. Last Sunday, Oksana, Irina, Helen, and I went there to review the first week and finalize plans for the second, but instead we just ended up chatting for the most part.

The class has been going pretty well; I have no complaints. This week we discussed US business culture and culminated the week with mock job interviews. I assigned the students a city and company and had them do some organizational research for the interview. One group took Reading, PA’s Penske Corporation, another, Harrisburg, PA’s Harsco Corporation, another took, Lowell, MA’s Joan Fabrics, and the last was assigned Elizabethtown College, near Lancaster, PA. As you will have noticed, I know each of these medium sized cities pretty well and am at least familiar with the companies. This helped me conduct the interviews, but also allowed me to help the students with their organizational research.

Another activity we did, to help the students think on their feet in English, was to take a field trip to the local history museum. Julia and Julianna, two of my “stars” from last year took me there last week, so I had a feel for the place. The students then had to pick one natural history display and one Ukrainian history display and make a presentation. I was impressed by the archeological display and spent some time studying the pottery while the students prepared their presentations. I couldn’t read the descriptions, but Helen and Vadim came over and helped a little. I was shocked to see no Greek pots (although there were several locally produced pieces using Greek designs), but I did notice two pieces of Roman Black Slip ware and a few Roman coins. Vadim seems to think that they were Byzantine, and some certainly were. There was a particularly well preserved denarius of Constantius.

For me, the highlight of these two weeks has been our baseball games. The students are generally unfamiliar with the game, although some Ukrainian universities do have teams. I primed the pump by having the students watch Fever Pitch (we considered Field of Dreams, but decided on a comedy). Then on Saturday, we walked to an old soccer field, I laid out some discarded water bottles for bases, and I assigned the students to teams and positions and we just started to play. We use a rubber ball and a real baseball bat, which makes for some good hitting. Irina borrowed a bat from someone for last week’s game and Oksana bought one for this week. Oksana’s 8 year old son joined us on Saturday, and let me tell you, that kid can play. It was his first baseball game, but he swung like a pro and fielded well. The rest of us did our best and we ended up with a 28-28(!) tie after 3 innings.

Inna, one of my students from last year stopped by to ask for a favor. She wrote a children’s book in English for her daughter and asked me to edit it for her. I am so proud of her job! I hope I can get a copy when it is finally printed up. It is a collection of fairy tales and some comprehension exercises (Her daughter is just starting English this year, in second grade. US schools could learn something I think from the Ukrainian emphasis on foreign languages.).
This afternoon, Oksana and I will be driving to Donetsk to pick up Mary, my teaching partner for the rest of my time here. It will be nice to have an English speaking buddy to hit the cafes with, but it will definitely cut into my reading. Oh, well, I already read the books I brought along and all I have left is some short stories I picked up at a book store in town.

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