Archive | February, 2007
February 18, 2007

Lindsay finally attempts to snowboard

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I went snowboarding for the first time in my life yesterday. Actually, I’ve never been skiing, either, so it was my first attempt at a snow sport that didn’t involve a cheaply made plastic saucer you buy at Target on your way to the mountain house. I don’t know why I haven’t been snowboarding before now. It’s not that California lacks ski resorts – we’ve got plenty of them, in fact. Just never got around to it, I guess. We were always more of a “let’s avoid anything resembling an actual winter” family. The beach was our scene.

Olga, Masha, Grace, and I went to Whitetail Resort, which is about an hour and a half from DC. Since I’ve never been to a ski resort before, I cannot comment on the quality. There was, however, snow, mountains, and lots of people. We picked up our rental boots and snowboards (Olga was skiing, Grace has her own snowboard equipment) and Grace taught us how to strap the board to our feet. We then got in line for the ski lift and we dragged our boards along, with one foot strapped in. The whole thing seemed entirely ridiculous to me, yet I somehow managed to hop onto the ski lift. I found the actual ride on the ski lift to be quite scary, and I clung to it for dear life, while my snowboard dangled from my foot.

“Dude, Olga, this thing is heavy, it’s gonna drag me down!” I thought I would plummet to my death, and perhaps earn a Darwin award.

Well, it didn’t drag me down, but the snowboard was a lot heavier than I expected, especially when compared to the weight of my 6’10” surfboard, which weighs next to nothing.

The whole process of getting off the ski lift was not so easy, and I basically flung myself off the bench when we got to the top and stumbled/crawled to the side (all with this effin’ board strapped to my right foot). It was not at all graceful, but I’m a newb so what do you expect?

With the scary ski lift experience over, it was finally time to attempt actually going down the slope. Grace gave us a few pointers, like on how to actually get up with this bizarre contraption strapped to your feet.

Once I mastered that, I was going down the slope at a very fast speed (well, fast to me at least).

snowboarding.jpgThis is totally not me. There are pics of our snowboarding adventure, but they are on Masha’s camera.

“Eh, this ain’t so hard!” And then, inevitably, BAM! Lindsay loses her balance and tumbles down the mountain. I did much better the second time going down, but took a particularly hard fall in which my stocking cap flew off my head and landed five feet from me. I laid there in the snow for a minute while eight year olds sped past me. Maaaan, I just dunno about this sport.

When I told some friends that I was going snowboarding, their reactions ranged from “Be prepared to spend most of the time on your ass” to “You surf, so you’ll probably be pretty good.” I’d like to think that I was somewhere in the middle. I could stand up and balance fine after a few runs, but my control was practically non-existent, and my stopping needs some major work. Stopping, as it turns out, is something you should definitely master.

On our last run down the slope, I looked behind me to see Masha holding her arm.

“Hey, you alright?

“My wrist!”

A guy riding the ski lift above shouted down that he would send for help. Ski patrol showed up shortly thereafter, put Masha on the stretcher, and headed down to first aid. I put my snowboard back on, but was so exhausted and sore that I half flung myself down the slope. Once we had found all the members of our group, we headed off to the Hagerstown hospital emergency room. Spent about four hours there. Ever been to Hagerstown? Not much there. Turns out she broke her wrist. Freakin’ sucks. Finally got back to DC around 1am. Woke up the next morning and every muscle in my body bitched at me.

I had a lot of fun at Whitetail and would definitely be up for trying snowboarding again. I thought it would be quite similar to surfing, but besides the fact that you are standing on a board and moving at a fast speed, the two sports are nothing alike. To me, snowboarding seems a lot easier than surfing. Learning to surf can be a very frustrating experience, while with snowboarding you can see yourself progress much quicker. Then again, the ocean is much more forgiving when you make a mistake. Fall off your board, and you’re in the water, not landing on a patch of hard ice. The whole ski resort environment felt like a snowy Disneyland.
Expensive, lots of people, long lines, and bad food. I much prefer the solitude of the ocean. Yeah, the breaks in SoCal can get very crowded, no doubt, but there have been countless times when I’ve found myself alone at the South Jetty in Oceanside, the waves all to myself, enjoying a beautiful sunset. You really can’t beat that. Uh, is it spring yet?!

February 11, 2007

Comrade, those cows are an environmental hazard

We’ve all had the hilarious “cow-based” explanations of political systems/corporations/nations e-mail forward show up in our inboxes at one time or another. Crystal recently forwarded this new one by Mark Gilbert over at Bloomberg. A few of my favorites:

Currency Market
You have two cows. China has 1 trillion cows. Guess who sets the price of milk?

Hedge Funds
You have two cows. A guy in an open-necked shirt drives up in his Bentley and offers to take care of them for you in return for a year’s supply of steak and 50 percent of their milk. They won’t be allowed to leave his compound for two years.

Six months later, you have half a cow, producing sour milk. “You have to be willing to lose rump today to get rib-eye tomorrow,” the hedge-fund guy mumbles through a mouthful of sirloin and champagne.

Carbon-Emissions Trading
You have two cows. They produce 1.2 tons of methane gas per day. After a hefty donation to the re-election campaign of your local representative, the government gives you enough emission permits for six cows. You sell three permits, buy another cow, and apply for a European Commission grant to build a methane-gas power station.

Microsoft Corp.
You have one old, tired cow. A recent heart transplant may have come too late to save the beast.

Google Inc.
You have no cows. You slap advertisements on everyone else’s cows. The milk floods in. You use the proceeds to reinvent the cow.

Apple Inc.
Nobody wants your cows. You design the cutest little milk bottle. Now, everybody wants your cows.

Commodities
You have lots of stocks and bonds, but no cows. Are you crazy? Cows are the hot new market. Here, buy this exchange- traded cow futures contract. It can’t lose. It gained 40 percent in the past six months.

Gold
You have two cows. You wear a cap you made out of tin foil so that the tiny black helicopters can’t read your thoughts. You spend your days blogging about how the government’s decision to abandon the cattle standard in 1933 was part of a global conspiracy by the world’s central banks to destroy the value of your herd.

And, of course, my personal favorite:

Russian Energy
You have two cows. Comrade, those cows are an environmental hazard. We suggest you hand one of them over to us.

(A cute little reference to Russia’s propensity for “Oh, hey, (insert Western energy company’s name here, i.e., Shell), looks like we’ve found a few environmental problems with your project (i.e., Sakhalin-2), might have to revoke your permits for that nice, big LNG facility you’re building. Better to just give us a stake in that, yeah?)

February 6, 2007

Eh, kak po-russki “Dude”?

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This recent post by Cincy prompted me to write about my own experience teaching foreigners English (albeit, in my case, indirectly).

Back in the summer of 2003 I took Russian language classes at Moscow State University’s Center for International Education, a division of MGU formed to teach Russian to promising young foreign Communists back in the days of the Soviet Empire. As for me, the American, what better way to spend my summer than sitting in a stifling hot classroom (no air conditioning, comrades!) cramming my head with verbs, vocab, and cases for five hours a day, five days per week.


Moscow State U. – breeding ground for future party bureaucrats

Our only respite from this constant barrage of language was our lunch period, which was spent in the stolovaya, or cafeteria. The decor was strictly Soviet – this was, after all, an educational center for the proletariat. The food, as you could imagine, thoroughly sucked, yet the Russian teachers, police officers, and soldiers seemed to enjoy it. We instead chose to purchase chips, candy, and soda from the outside kiosks, much to to the chagrin of the surly cafeteria ladies. I usually opted for a Fanta and large bag of bacon or chicken flavored chips (yes, they really have chips with those flavors). Nevertheless, it was a time for us to just relax and speak some damn English without our teachers yelling at us. We were an odd bunch – a few Yanks, some Brits, a couple of Spaniards, a south Korean, and a pair of Pakistani diplomats. Most of us were college students with an academic reason for spending the summer at CIE, while others were there because their oil executive or stockbroker fathers thought it best they learn the local language.
So one day we were sitting there when a CIE staff member comes barreling through, speaking so fast I could barely understand. Something about a computer, I dunno. Liz points her finger at me, and the next thing I knew, I was being dragged to the director’s office.

“They want you to fix a computer or something. I told them you knew stuff about computers.”

“WHAT! Windows is going to be in freakin’ RUSSIAN!!”

I got to the office and there was no computer for me to fix. I was thoroughly confused, until they introduced me to a representative from a language software company. She said her company was developing a new program to teach young Russians the vocabulary of their American counterparts and they would just need my help for an hour, hour and a half tops. I agreed, still unsure as to what exactly I would be doing, until she e-mailed me a list of subjects we would possibly be discussing. Oh man, I thought, they’re going to record me?!

I had spent the following weekend in St. Petersburg, and arrived back in Moscow on Monday morning, stumbling off the train and rushing to make it back to CIE, all while ridiculously low on sleep. Oh yeah, I could already tell that this “interview” was going to be stellar. I met up with the software representative and we hopped on the metro. The “studio” was located in a stereotypical crumbling office building/factory of some sort. Man, that place must have been buzzing with economic inefficiency back in the day.

They sat me down in front of a mic, gave me a mug of scalding hot tea (it was July, mind you), completed the sound check, and the questions started to roll in. The interviewer was a very nice fellow, and explained we would be discussing sports. Sports, hey! I can talk about sports!

Q: What are your favorite sports?
My favorite sports are soccer, baseball and surfing.

Q: Do you go surfing in Washington?
No, no opportunities for surfing in Washington, only when I go back to California.

And so on and so on. They had me explain the equipment you need to go surfing, so I covered the various types of boards, talked about the importance of a leash, and mentioned that wearing a wetsuit was probably a good idea. This was critical information that young Muscovites needed to know.

The next set of questions centered around a typical day in the life of Lindsay Fincher, student at George Washington University:

Q: What is your favorite place to eat?
We have a favorite place, called ‘Lindy’s Red Lion’, and it’s a bar and restaurant, and they have some… some very, very good hamburgers. I eat a lot of hamburgers, so, if a place has good hamburgers, then I like it.

Brilliant, Lindsay…just brilliant. If hordes of young Russians descend upon “Lindy’s Red Lion” while strolling around Foggy Bottom, now you know why.

Q: Do you have a vacuum cleaner?
I don’t have a vacuum cleaner myself, but each dorm has a vacuum cleaner in it, and if you want to use it, you can go downstairs and get it.

What kind of bizarre question is that?!

Q: What time do you go to bed?
I usually go to bed at two in the morning.

Q: What time do you get up?
I wake up at eight thirty.

Q: Is this time enough to sleep?
Yeah. It’s enough time.

After the interview was finished, they handed me a nice, crisp 500 ruble bill (around $15 back then) as payment for my time. Ooh yeah, I ain’t reportin’ this to those suckas at the IRS. I promptly spent it on cheesy Russian souvenirs, like Soviet leader stacking dolls and propaganda posters.

I hadn’t given the program much thought after I left Moscow. I never knew if they had actually made it until, out of curiosity, I checked the company’s website about a year ago and found that it had indeed come out under the title “Frankly Speaking: Real American” (cue theme song from Team America: World Police, please). You can even buy it online for a mere 816 rubles ($30), just make sure you have at least a Pentium 200. Or, you can read the script that I found online (and from which I grabbed all the dialogue from while simultaneously reminding myself of what an idiot I must have sounded like). I’m listed as Lindsay Fincher, USA, George Washington University, студентка по специальности Political Science and Russian History in sections Спорт от софтбола до серфинга and День, как день. (Sorry if you can’t see the Cyrillic, but whatev, download the language pack if you are so inclined).

realamerican_fs.jpg

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about this…except for my friends at CIE, obviously…but not even my parents. It’s just one of those things you forget about, and then remember and think to yourself, “That was pretty odd.”

Nevertheless, I hope that at least one Russian learned something from this program…maybe picked up a hint of a California accent, got a craving for a Lindy’s Hawaiian burger, or is now poring over a map looking for Russian surf spots. I dunno, surely the oil and gas mecca of Sakhalin has some waves? Just gotta watch out for those ice floes.