More Observations on Teaching and About Russia

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  1. The students have asked for a couple of hours of my time out of class on Tuesday afternoon to discuss issues unrelated to the course work. I have been politely warned, or perhaps I should say alerted, to the fact that the questions may be “inappropriate.” On inquiry, I am told that in the past they have asked visitors political questions about foreign and domestic policy. What about Iraq? What about native Americans? I expect inquiry about Libya, as to which my data is limited to day-late Kindle downloads from the Boston Globe, which is not exactly the news source one would want to rely upon. There is no TV in the room, nor in the dorm common areas (which are sparse anyway), nor in the teachers’ lounge. TVs in restaurants play Madonna, Michael Jackson, rap, mostly English music videos.
  2. Today we took an hour walk from the campus into the area of town marked by row on row of medium-rise apartment buildings. The level of maintenance is pretty low. There are missing stones from facades, no grass in front (mud), play areas have broken equipment, and there is clearly no pooper scooper for the numerous neighborhood dogs. Doorways are sometimes missing brickwork. Most apartments have glass-enclosed balconies which seem to be used either for storage or lines to dry clothing. There is modest trash in the street, nothing serious and no newspapers blowing around (come to think of it, the kiosks we have seen on the streets have magazines and chocolate, no papers even in Russian). The buildings are 6-8 stories high, no noticeable architectural interest, flat facades of gray or dark brick; there are rows and rows, streets and streets of them. It is all pretty unattractive. There are cars, but not that many; parking is on the street and there are plenty of open spaces. There are few children outside, none in the play areas; it was about 40 degrees and gray, but certainly the streets felt deserted of kids.
  3. So we sort of looked into the windows of a few lit apartments on lower floors. Not much to see; small kitchens, hanging chandeliers that were really sort of ornate for an apartment; no light fixture seemed to have all its bulbs, which reminded me of our rooms, where fully half the sockets in the two chandeliers in each of our rooms are empty. Electricity usage under control again.
  4. Ate dinner tonight in an Italian restaurant. About 20 kinds of pizza, 10 kinds of pasta. Also chicken wings and some sushi. Ice cream, coffee, lousy wine (all sweet). A few Russian dishes mixed in. Although about a half mile from campus, it was full of students. Only one or two families with kids. Big take-out business for boxes of small pizzas. A word about the pizzas: they aren’t. Flat soft dough, no tomato sauce; cheese including soft slightly sweet cottage cheese. All the pictures show various toppings of differing colors (picture menu). Doesn’t matter, no matter what you order you seem to get the same thing. Dinner (if you can call it that) for three, with 3 wines and one large beer, 2 small milk shakes: $30 including 10% tip. Note on tipping: while all restaurants (and stores) seem to take Master Card and Visa, the charge slips in restaurants do not have a line for a gratuity. We inquired of our keeper: we are told it is indeed expected to leave a 10% tip unless it is a buffet.
  5. Daily super market stop: careful review of the shelves is interesting. Foods have Russian labeling by in large. Cleaning supplies, diapers, female hygiene items bear US brand names and English labels. In toy shops and sporting goods shops, a reasonable portion of the stock bears English labels/brands. You can get several types of English language Monopoly here, a Sherlock Holmes mystery game, etc. There is far far more English on the shelves here than Russian in the US.
  6. I have been asked to address a dinner meeting of judges about dispute resolution for corporate clients. I have told them I am a business lawyer but it seems any American lawyer is presumed competent to talk for a half hour on just about any US law topic. I will give it a try, from the standpoint of a business lawyer who tries to bridge the communication gap between our litigators and our business clients. I am reminded of the axiom: in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.
  7. They want me to give an exam to my class; I have told them no. I cannot give an oral exam to 50 people. If I give an exam to 50 students in Russian, how do I grade them? I like to think that multiple choice is not really the right way to end off a law class. I have offered to provide a signed certificate of attendance, albeit not likely “suitable for framing.” We will see how this all works out.
  8. Lastly, I was invited to go ice fishing. I have noticed that the ice is rapidly melting on the river here. I wonder if I am overstaying my welcome….

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