Archive for February, 2007

2 Weeks Down

It’s been 2 weeks. As you regular readers have probably noticed things are going a whole lot better now than they were those first few days.

Yesterday Yuriy set up a lunchtime meeting between us and a guy named Sashko, a member of L’viv’s Off-Road club. That’s right, wheelin’ in Ukraine.

Sashko was a pretty cool guy that spoke pretty decent English. He’s got a Land Cruiser of some sort and was fairly familiar with what the Hilux is (The Tacoma is called Hilux just about everywhere except the US). I tried explaining to him what I had done to my truck and I think he understood most of it. Too bad I can’t just point at it in the parking lot :-)

Around halfway through our lunch I noticed off in the back of this well-lit cafe on the 4th floor of the mall a man showing off… you might not believe this. The guy was showing off his shotgun. “Shotgun” isn’t slang for anything when I say that. He had a shotgun, a large firearm capable of destroying humans, -inside- the cafe on the 4th floor of this large mall! This was damn near the funniest thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here. You can’t take your backpack into the grocery store but you can bring your shot-gun into the cafe!

I don’t fully understand what was decided at the meeting with Sashko but I think I’m going wheeling sometime soon. Apparently these guys do lots of last-second informal runs, sometimes even mid-week. And then 2 weeks from now (2 days before Heather comes) there’s a competition of sorts in Kiev. It sounds like I can go to that as well. My only concern is its a 10hr drive… That’s a long drive. Could be awfully fun though.

4 comments February 28th, 2007

A Ride on the Tram

After the SnowI haven’t written in a few days because I haven’t had much to say. It snowed on Thursday and it’s been -freezing- ever since, however, that’s not exactly big news.

I’ve been waiting several hours to tell you all about my ride on the tram this morning. This tram is almost exactly like the muni trains in San Francisco. You know, they run on railroad tracks but are electric powered.

I walked down to the tram. When I left the apartment this morning Yahoo! Weather thought the temperature was 12 degrees fahrenheit with a wind chill of -4 degrees F. That’s right folks, it’s cold out here. The sidewalks that haven’t been shovelled yet are either snowy or covered in ice.

I missed the first tram by a few seconds and waited for the next. I got on board with everyone else and grabbed a seat. The tram proceeded forward for about 100 yards before slowing quickly and honking the horn profusely. I figured there was either a car or a dog parked on the tracks. Finally the horn stops, the driver comes out of the little drivers area, oh this will be good I think, opens the fuse panel, I shit you not, proceeds to change 3 or 4 fuses, closes her up, goes back into the driver area and starts things moving again. I just kind of smiled at this point. No one else on the tram seemed bothered by this and the black smoke stains on the fuse panel door, certainly left from prior fuse explosions, helped me to understand this is normal.

So we’re cruising again. Again the horn honks, the train slows, we stop. The driver gets out, checks the fuse, yep, its busted. She goes back into the drivers area, pulls a rope that I am left to believe disconnects us from our power source above, opens the doors and walks outside with some sort of stick. My only theory is that she was removing snow and/or ice from a special place on the tram that was causing our problems. She came back in, changed the fuse, put us back on the power, fired her up and we were off.

At this point I just had a big smile on my face. I looked around and no one else seemed to think anything of this. I enjoyed it :-)

I found the grocery store that Yuriy had been telling me about, it was large, even had its own mostly-empty parking lot. I passed through security (you’re not allowed to carry in any backpacks or the like) without much issue and grabbed my mini-basket. I found some food that any idiot can cook. I found some TP, Kleenex brand even. I found some soap, Dove, around twice as expensive as the local brands, around $1 for a bar. They don’t appear to have paper towels here and despite the freezing cold there’s no tissue to blow your nose with. I picked up some laundry detergent, Tide. At this moment a store employee, a young girl, walked up to me and in Ukrainian said something; I have no idea what but in the middle she said “Tide.” I waited until she finished before saying, yes in english, “I have no idea what you just said.” I smiled, we laughed. She stood there and watched me check my list before I turned around and walked off to another part of the store. It’s as though she expected me to say something she understood.

The woman at the checkout register asked if I wanted a bag for my groceries; unlike everyone else in the store I didn’t bring my own plastic bags. Well of course I figured. She scanned the bag. That’s right, I had to pay for the bag that I then got to put my groceries in. I don’t actually know how much it cost, even if I could find it on the receipt the prize patrol took it from me.

I turned from the checkout place and began walking to the exit. Before I could get there, however, I was stopped by another employee, a typically-good-looking young Ukrainian woman. She asked “do you speak english?” I never thought I’d love that phrase so much. I said “Yes.” She then proceeded to tell me that I had won some prize and if I wanted to claim it I should follow her. I asked what the prize was. She repeated “a prize.” Yeah. WTF is what I was thinking too.

She led me no more than 20′ over, still in front of the exit of the store where we met with another young employee, the prize distributor. I apparently won this prize because I bought the Tide laundry soap. Remember the girl from earlier talking about Tide? Yeah, me too. She asked me to pick a card from the ones she had fanned out in her hands. I picked a card. The other girl scratched off the lottery-ticket-scratcher-style stuff on the back of it and there, in Ukrainian, were the words detailing my prize. She said “see” I said “right.” :) She handed me my prize. I had just won… drum roll please… A scoop to measure my laundry detergent. That’s right folks. I had just won the scoop that comes in every box of laundry detergent you’ve ever bought. Ironically enough the box of detergent I had just bought, shaped similarly but smaller than a typical box of cereal, doesn’t actually have a scoop in it.

I walked back to the tram, had an uneventful trip to my stop and then walked back to my apartment.

Later on this same day I finally paid visit to a local McDonalds. A cheeseburger is still a cheeseburger. The fries are pronounced more like “freeze” and a soda, I have no idea. I just say coca-cola. I spent just less than $4 for 2 cheeseburgers, fries and a soda. Slightly cheaper than what it would cost at home. The fries taste exactly the same, coke, of course, exactly the same and the burger tasted slightly less fatty; less flavor. But it was food, and there was no smoking. I won’t be going there daily but I’m sure I’ll return.

8 comments February 24th, 2007

2.3 Weeks until I join Big Bad Bob in Ukraine!!!

Yay, Just a little over two weeks until I leave for Ukraine. I can’t wait to get there and take everything in :-) Athough I’m still not sure about the whole flying by myself, and who knows how I’m going to get everything done for the big move!

Anyhoo, Yay, I’ll be there soon, and if any of you want to come help me pack, feel free to call me :)


1 comment February 23rd, 2007

One Week Down, Many to go

As of this very moment I’ve been living in Ukraine for 7 days and a couple of hours. The past week has been, to say the least, interesting.

Last night I went to bed at my usual time but woke up around 3:30 with some lovely stomach pain. As I described in my last posting the restaurant I went to for dinner seemed great. It looked a whole lot less interesting going out. Thankfully, as Heather points out, it was coming out “the bottom” instead of the same hole it went in. Not too bad though, I made it almost an entire week without having trouble with my food.

My 1.5mi walk to work each morning is becoming, as you can imagine, monotonous. Walk walk walk, avoid the puddle, walk walk, don’t get hit by the bus, walk walk, wow that’s a hole, walk walk walk walk walk walk [take a breath] walk walk walk walk walk walk walk walk walk.

Today I ate the lunch that is catered for us at the office. As usual I’m not sure what I ate. The “main course” was what I would call a seafood-meatloaf with mashed potatoes. The side dish was a salad consisting of mushrooms, some form of large bean, and then maybe beets? I don’t remember exactly.

This evening I was at the office until around 9:00pm. On a Tuesday night a majority of places for food are closed at this time. I stopped at what I’ve been calling a convenience store on the way home hoping to pick up some dinner. After waltzing around for a bit having only found really old, frozen potato pancakes I decided just to buy breakfast for tommorrow. I picked up some Nestle Kosmostars and some 3.5% milk (молоко). Unlike the last time I bought milk I actually knew what it was called. Whether or not I pronounced it properly is a different question. Then comes the how much it costs routine. I shake my head. She says it again. I shake my head. This was great. Instead of lolly-gagging around she just grabs a piece of paper and writes down the numbers. No problem. дякую (Thank you).

I decided not to eat the Kosmostars for dinner and braved the outside world to find an open restaurant. I was pleased to stumble across a cafe (remember this one: кафе) where they have “point to order” food. I pointed at something that looked an awful lot like what I had for lunch yesterday and some fries. Altogether this cost 38 UAH, around $8, not terribly cheap by Ukrainian standards and I don’t know why.

7 comments February 20th, 2007

Dinner in Ukraine, Alone, Again

Yesterday afternoon Bohdan came over and we walked to a nearby soccer field where I got to fly my helicopter for the first time in Ukraine and for the first time over snow. The flight went well. I got inverted a few times and flew out of a couple of nasty situations without crashing. A few folks stopped to watch but nothing more than I normally get back home (this is a good thing).

Then we went to pizza. This is one of the many “New York” pizza places called Pizza Verona. They actually spell pizza піца and that’s pronounced “pea-cha”. The pizza was pretty good but its not a whole lot like any new york pizza I’ve ever had before. It’s round. And it has thin crust. But they use a different cheese, and sauce, and their salami ain’t any salami I’ve ever seen before. So it’s different, but it’s good, добрий (d’oh-bray, don’t forget to trill your ‘r’).

From pizza we raced against the setting sun up to a place they call “high castle”. It’s the highest point in the city, around 400m above the pizza place, Bohdan tells me. They have a huge antenna up on top of the hill. We walk briskly through some very old neighborhoods, past a ~300 year old church and through another neighborhood, past a fancy restaurant and then, up ~500 stairs. At the top of the stairs it levels off and you see the base of the antenna. Then you can also see the high castle, 300m ahead and at least 100m above you. We continue walking briskly past many couples; this is obviously the hot spot to take your woman for a nice night out. Don’t worry, Heather, I can find it again, it’s hard to miss. Once atop the high castle you can see all of downtown L’viv as well as the outlying areas. From the old Austrian-era buildings to the newer Russian-era buildings (the difference is stark).

After that (I’m telling you, they’re keeping me busy here) we went over to Roman’s house to watch some movies. Bohdan said we’d watch, I think I’m remembering this correctly, “Leon the Killer” since that movie they had english audio for. It turns out that this is actually the movie “The Professional” with Natalie Portman from when she was a little girl. After that we watched a movie that was in english but was dubbed over in Ukrainian. I mostly just watched the pictures.

Today went well. The walk to work this morning, though cold as always, was under blue skies. At lunch time Markiyan and I went to a place nearby that he apparently goes to quite often. I’m not sure exactly what I ate. It had meat in it, I think pork, some cheese and tomato slices. I had mashed potatoes on the side. They were both pretty darn good. The rest of the day went as usual. I had hoped to take advantage of my lack of evening meetings to leave work during daylight and walk home. Instead the sun set faster than I expected (i.e. I lost track of time) and it was dark. Yuriy came by and asked if I was leaving soon and I decided to leave then so I could walk down the “scary” street with him. I don’t find it particularly scary myself, but I’ve been warned not to walk it alone after dark.

After arriving at home I had to decide whether to cook the three potato pancakes I still had in the freezer (I nearly ruined the pan the last time I tried), find a place to buy groceries at 9pm or go buy dinner. I opted to go buy dinner. I went in search of an ATM and came up empty handed. I found a nice looking cafe (кафе I think that is pronounced more like kaffy than cafe) with stickers for credit cards in the window and decided to eat there. Remembering my last experience at a restaurant here by myself I went in with a different attitude. I was screwed and I knew it.

The folks in L’viv (at least near my apt) are apparently so not used to having tourists come in that the completely glazed over look in my eyes and constant shaking of my head doesn’t trigger any alarms. Usually the first few english words I say “english?” don’t even tip them off. I sat down at a table and was given a menu, in Ukrainian. I looked it over, beginning to recognize a few words like coca cola (кока кола), but still completely unable to find food. I could tell based on the menu that there was definitely food there. I grabbed my Ukrainian phrase book out of my pocket and pointed, while we both laughed, to “dinner” in the book. She said they didn’t have dinner. So I pointed to “food?”. No, no food here. What the? I can see food! She left and another came running over. She yapped off something in Ukrainian. Or maybe she tried Polish or Russian on me. I couldn’t tell the difference. Then she said “you speak english?” “YES!” the whole cafe heard me say. Ahh. Thank god, she spoke english. She told me that have only pizza. Pizza!? Fantastic. добрий. She picked the first pizza in the menu and translated the ingredients for me. Sounded great. I ordered a pizza and a beer. This pizza was good. Quite good. They use mozzarella here and the crust is pretty good. The chicken, red bell peppers, olives and mushrooms were all fine. The pizza was good. I ate what I could leaving only one slice behind.

She brought me my check and I showed her my Visa. No dice. Despite the Visa stickers on the window they don’t take cards. Yikes, I only have 5 Hra and I owe 18. I had $5 USD in my pocket, worth around 25 Hra. She asked someone something and said I could pay with that and they’d give me change. Nice. So I had pizza and a beer for $5, including the large 25% tip I left for her speaking english. I’ll be back.

2 comments February 19th, 2007

Photo Competition

Yuriy has put up a nice collection of our photos from the competition. The little filmstrips show the work in progress while the singular pictures in the second half show our submissions.

Collection of Photos

2 comments February 19th, 2007

The Last Few Days

On Thursday night I finally slept through an entire night and woke up Friday morning to snow falling from the sky. This was, as most Californians think, neat to see. Then I remembered Ivan asking the night before if I wanted a ride to work on Friday. I told him no and that I’d just walk. 1.5mi in the snow. But this walk was nothing compared to the walking I’d do on Saturday.

Friday panned out as a typical day at the office. At lunch I mistakenly chose an entree of liver from the food that is catered daily to the office. Liver. Liver seems quite popular here with many people enjoying its unique flavor. I’m not a fan of liver. I felt bad not finishing my food.

Friday evening a few of the guys took me out to a local restaurant where they have live music. The place was called култ and for the rest of you non-cyrillic reading americans that’s pronounced like the english word “cult.” They had live music. It was basically a soloing violinist with a guitar, keyboard and someone else playing something I can’t remember. The violin player was quite good and even had people up dancing a few times. The first couple to attempt to dance had, as Roman put it, “started drinking long before us.” :-)

Saturday I got up at the crack of dawn, 8:30 AM. Yuriy and Pavlo were at my place at 9:00 to get over to the start of a photo competition we were doing that day. It was like 19 degrees when we walked out the door and I don’t think it got any warmer all day. It was ka-ka-ka-cold. We met at the top of some park in L’viv and got our instructions for the rest of the day. There were 5 titles for pictures and we were to take pictures that met each of those 5 titles. I can’t remember them all but there was something like a Yin-Yang, “Something Soft”, “There was snow”, “Mobile Love”, “The World has no Love”. In addition to that there was a clue for where to meet someone at 1:00. When we met that guy he gave us a 6th picture to take: “Nude.”

So we left the meeting area to start the competition. Yuriy knew I was freezing so we went straight to a shop to have some tea and talk about what we were going to take pictures of. We headed down to the city center (downtown) and while standing around I snapped this shot of a bus going by. The first few times I saw these buses I couldn’t help but laugh. How many people did they smash into that thing?

Dude on bus

Notice where they’ve wiped off the condensation on the inside so that they can actually see out. Not doing this would surely result in your riding the bus all day. There are no scheduled stops for the buses. They stop either when you ask the driver to stop or when someone wanting to get on flags him down. It costs 1 Hryvna to ride the bus, about $0.20.

Then we made it to a large, old church. The inside was absolutely beautiful, but far too dark to take any decent pictures. On the outside of the church were birds… fat birds, like these ones:

3 Fat Birds

It didn’t take long to see why they’re so fat, this not-so-skinny woman came out and fed them:

Woman Feeding Birds

The other thing to notice from this picture is the blackened wall in the background. That’s the beautiful church I was telling you about. In typical Ukrainian fashion the outside of the building is filthy and the inside is simply magnificent.

Here’s a graffiti-decorated wall.


And finally, here’s another picture of the street I live on. I can actually, sort of, pronounce the street name now. I stand a chance at getting home via taxi :-)

My Street

1 comment February 18th, 2007

Day 3

It’s my third day here in Ukraine. After going to bed at 8:00PM local time I woke up around 3AM this morning. With nothing much to do I pulled out the laptop and watched a movie. And then I pulled out bittorrent and downloaded the latest episode of American Idol. And then I watched that. And then I stared at the dark wall wondering why the street light never came back on outside. And then… you see, it was more boring than reading this blog.

The two mornings I’ve been here I’ve woken up very early. On both days, before the sun rises but I’m not sure exactly what time, you can hear someone scraping or shoveling the sidewalk. It appears that they (the government?) clean the sidewalk daily in an attempt to keep the city clean. While walking in this morning I think I’ve discovered that this is very important. Were they not to do this the sidewalks would be littered with dog shit. I shit you not :-) Apparently they don’t have the laws that require leashed dogs nor that whole pooper scooper thing.

When the sun finally rose I called Heather and talked to her for a bit before eating breakfast and showering. I walked into the office today and logged my journey with the GPS. You can see the trip here in Google maps. Unfortunately the satelite pictures suck and the roads aren’t listed at all there. According to the GPS stats its a 1.5mi walk and it took me right around 30 minutes, door to door, to do it (I turned the GPS on “near” my apt and off “near” lohika). It’s not that I walk slow but I think there are many times where you have to stop to not get killed by the crazy drivers here.

At lunch Yuriy took me to the local grocery store. From the outside the place is a huge, modern building; it looks like a 4-story mall. Turns out the grocery store is only the bottom floor and, though nice inside, its about the size of a Trader Joe’s. I picked up some food for dinner and this should help me to avoid feeling like a worthless slob trying to order dinner from a local restaurant.

The weather was pretty warm today and the sun even showed itself through broken clouds at one point today. I’d guess it got into the 40s. However, 40 degrees in CA just feels much warmer than 40 degrees in Ukraine. It just pierces through your clothes somehow.

I gave an english lesson to the UI dev team today. I defined the words “chit chat”, “dude”, “dude-ette” and “she-dude.” Engaging in casual conversation with a lot of these guys I can see their eyes glaze over just as mine do when folks start talking in Ukrainian. Talking slow and using common words seems to help.

Add comment February 15th, 2007

And then there’s Reality

Imagine walking down an unlit cobblestone sidewalk to a not-entirely-known destination where you think you’ll find dinner. You took a wrong turn, try the other way. Wrong turn again, try the -other- way? Ok, you’ve found the restaurant to eat at, order what you want. None of the waitstaff speak english, maybe the person next to you does? He does, he can translate an order for you. Just pay and sit down. The restaurant is busy, people sit down next to you at your table but you can’t understand a word they’re saying to each other. Your food comes, you eat, the food is good, you leave. You walk back down an unlit cobbstone sidewalk to your apartment, in the rain.

In the world of expats they talk about the “honeymoon” phase where new expats are usually very excited and happy to be in an entirely new place for the first few weeks. After that they usually enter some sort of period where they’re unhappy, perhaps even depressed. They realize all of the home-comforts that they’re now missing and its as though reality sets in.

It’s different here.

3 comments February 14th, 2007

Another Day, Another Dollar (5 Hryvna)

I’ve been pretty careful to make sure that all of the things I’m plugging into my 1 little power adapter are 220V safe. Last night I tried plugging in a power strip. I figured this way I could use my 1 power adapter to get 6 sockets with american plugs @ 220V. Sounds like a great idea, no?

Apparently my power strip is only rated for 110V and this, for some reason, matters. When I flipped it on sparks flew to celebrate the lights going out. After a few phone calls (thanks, Ivan) I found the circuit breaker. However, I was unable to actually flip the breaker back. Everytime I clicked it over it would immediately break again. Thankfully Ivan called the landlord and the husband-wife combo strolled out to my place around 9pm to fix the breaker. I have no idea what he did differently from me but I have internet again. Thank goodness for such nice people.

This morning I decided I needed breakfast. I walked around a few nearby blocks looking for places to eat. I found a few bars but none of your typical breakfast eateries. Then I found a little tiny grocery store. I looked all over before finding a few (literally) boxes of cereal on a top shelf. I grabbed one and then asked for “milk.” The woman knew what I wanted (I found later that the word in Ukrainian is pronounced mi-lo-ko). It cost me 14 Hryvna, roughly $3, for a liter of milk and a box of cereal. Not bad.

Add comment February 14th, 2007

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