Dec 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

After twenty four hours of international travel, and an aggravating wait at New York's JFK airport, we arrived in Salt Lake City, luggage and all. We were were second to arrive at the hilltop mansion after Grandma Case. For the next three days, all we did was shop. and shop and shop. Although I had already finished my Christmas shopping, I did a surprising lot of tagging along shopping. It's not like there was anything else to do up at the house, apart from reading and netting. Mom also got some laundry done. It was really nice for two days when Taylor and I got our own beds and our own room. My cousin Casey came in the other night, the day before my uncle Tracy and his family arrived. After Tracy et al arrived, I lost a bed and was shunted to the couch, which, I suppose, is preferable to the green mats on the floor. Taylor is in a sleeping bag.
The Scheers have a new dog, a 9 month old siberian husky bitch named Tomika. She's one wild dog, excitedly running around everywhere. She's big, but she's not quite grown so she still trips over herself occationally. She is still a bit bitey. We played catch out back in the snow, and she could only remember to bring the ball back every other throw.
Christmas eve dinner was a restaurant takeout lasagne. We also had salad, bread, and a Yule Log cake complete with bark frosting and merangue mushrooms. It was really mediocre, more visually sumptious than flavorful. Christmas eve all the "kids" stayed up to talk. I went to bed early, informed that we'd be opening presents at 7:30. AM. Insane.
I didn't sleep well. Headache, and discomfort with my new sleeping arrangements. Heard "Santa" moving around at 3:00 AM and pretty much tossed and turned utill rising at about six. Once everyone was awake, we had a remarkably organized present opening. My biggest surprise was a Creme Brulee sugar carmelizer mini propane torch with four ramekins. The least surprising present was a hat that I negotiated for and purchased in the Moscow markets. My main present is sking, and a large format printer.
Today, Christmas day, we unwrapped presents, and ate a lot of chocolate and junk food. We picked up our ski gear, and then ate dinner. We had turkey, rolls, mashed potatoes, and dressing, all covered with giblet gravy and all homemade and declicious. We finished off the evening playing a family tournament of Blackjack. Taylor finished second to Danny, with Uncle Tracy dealing the whole game. We ski Alta tomorrow.

Dec 22, 2004

Trapped in Teatime

Lets see, monday was a very full day. Highlights: Red Square, The Kremlin, A Russian Church which was covered with guilded religious Ikons on every surface, the Fabrege Eggs, A massive bronze statue of Peter the Great as Colombus, overpriced Cappuchinos at Gum, A bus tour which took us all around moscow including the imposing Moscow University in one of Stalin's seven sisters. I guess monday was also the "Horrors of Stalinism" day as I saw the final resting place of the bloodiest, most psychotic dictator to ever live, the state political apartments where he had 90% of the residents killed, and the Lubyanka, headquarters of the KGB which also contained various rooms for torture and a prison. Its also the location of the KGB museum, which I plan to visit when I return to Moscow. The tour guides are actually former KGB agents and officers, so I shall try hard not to be too revolted.
I've decided that Sartre should have set No Exit in an international flight that never ends. It's just miserable. You're supposed to be like a vegitable: just sit there in the fixed position, dont think, don't move, just eat the stale pretzels as the flight crew periodically waters you. In a kind of coincidal effect of the plane traveling against the earth's rotation at about the same speed, it was about two o'clock for the entire nine hours. Anyway, at least there were no major problems, except we were a little tight on time in our New York connection. At least I slept some on the Utah flight.
Utah is cold, and it was snowing, but it feels warmer than Moscow. Probably because it's drier here, and lacking the frigid wind that chills Moscow streets. Today I went shopping with the family, mailed Jen's Christmas present, and worked out with Uncle David. You know, when I get back to Tempe, I'm going to need a vacation, just some time to unwind.

pictures of moscow

You can find the best of the pictures I took here at my online gallery.

Dec 20, 2004

Soviet Subway

Had a good breakfast this morning, omelets and toast. Then our Russian tour guide met us at the apartment building. Felix is a large Russian who looks more like a Boris. He walked mom and I over to the metro and we began the tour. It was really quite interesting, as the ornamentation reflects the culture, history, and politics of the time. We saw stained glass windows, massive utopian propagana tile mossaics, bronze statues, and arches everywhere. The way the metro works is that you pay one fare and can travel anywhere in the city. This frees up the design of the platforms a lot. Instead of multiple platforms with an island dividing the tracks, you have one platform with tracks on both sides. It was all very interesting. We also stopped to have a look at the Bolshoi theater.
After a few hours, we went to an expensive department store and picked up some stuff for dinner.
I took a short walk around the neighborhood, took some pictures, and then came back home for dinner. After dinner, we caught the Metro to Red Square. Standing there, with St.Basil's in front and the tomb of Lenin to my right, it really hit home that I was in Moscow. We walked back through Gum, a huge upscale mall. Its actually all these old buildigns which have been connected by bridges and covered by glass roof. Pretty, with all the lights inside.
Afterwards we came back and I handed out my christmas presents to the family and we ate ice cream. Currently, we're watching Troy.

Dec 19, 2004

Budweiser Mickey

We all went to Hard Rock Cafe for breakfast this morning. I couldn't believe how cold I was. I think its just perception, since I didn't feel nearly that cold for the rest of the day. I was wearing everything from the long underwear to my wool scarf. HRC was located on Arabat street, a sort of sleepy tourist trap with old pre-revolutionary buildings lining it. Had some retched cappuchino, and then we had fun watching three people dressed in cartoon outfits. There was donald duck, some other character, and mickey mouse wearing a budweiser jacket. Had a really mediocere breakfast burrito. I guess I've just been spoiled in the US. When I first came here I was struck by how difficult life here was for an expat, with the language barrier, traffic, etc etc. It's nothung but a constant struggle. But I thought back to Living in Beijing and Singapore, and I remembered that when you are the new expat, you just take it all in stride because theres nothing else one can do.

We took the metro to the Tourist market afterwards. It was a themed market, with a ticketed fare, sort of like the a Russian Rawhide. There's wooden russian towers everywhere, and the ticket collectors wore traditional russian costumes. Vendors inside sold the classic tourist stuff: Pirated DVDs and CDs, Nesting Dolls, fur hats, laquered boxes, etc. I bought a Russian army cap. A man came and drew a quick sketch of me in charcoal, so I bought it for about ten bucks. It was overpriced, but oh well. We left after dad complained he couldn't feel his toes. I was getting cold too, and although the market was huge, it was variations of the same junk.

We took the metro to Gorbushka next, a sprawling complex of three massive multifloored warehouses, each floor crammed with tiny stalls crammed with electronics, celll phones, stereos, appliances, laptops, and flatscreen TVs. It's pulled straight out of a William Gibson novel. Also crammed full of people. Every stereo is on, and every screen is filled with movies, so its quickly overwelming. I actually got lost at one point, had to go to the outside, and find my way back by walking around the building back to the original enterance. After a few hours, Taylor bought a stereo, and we carried it back on the metro.

For dinner, we went to an Azerbaijani restaurant, and I got some steak peices. They were alright, but nothing spectacular. The table next to ours had a whole roasted lamb. We drove home and then watched The Incredibles. Tomorrow I'm taking a metro tour.

Dec 17, 2004

Brrrrrr......

Lets see... wednesday I spent running errands, packing, finishing things up. I also took my last final exam. Wednesday night Jen and I went to go see Shaun of the Dead, a british zombie spoof. I thought it was very funny, but then it got much more serious and dramatic towards the end. Anyway, got up at 5:30 AM thursday... It's friday night now, so it kind of feels like a sly trick was played on me. Took the Supershuttle to the airport and got my tickets. My trip over here was so miraculously problem free, I'm starting to worry about things at home. I never waited more than ten minutes before my flights started boarding. At sky harbor, I didn't even have time to finish my Chai Latte before the flight. In Cincinnati and JFK in New York, I walked off the plane, walked to the gate, and waited in line to board. The flight to Moscow was a mercifully short 8.5 hours, a mere bagatelle compared to the 14 hour humps from Chicago to Beijing, or Beijing to Paris. My only complaint was that I had the middle seat every flight but the shortest, and every flight was overbooked. I spent the time in transit mostly tearing through the last book in the Gunslinger series by Steven King. He really is getting a bit too cocky, making himself one of the most important (if minor) figures in his novel. Ah well, the gunslinger series is his Magna Opus, supposedly his last published work. We'll see. When we touched down, I got really excited because I realized where I was. There was snow on the ground, bare cedars and black trees, and soviet everything. Moscow is the ancient and current capital, and it's set in the middle of a forrest far to the north. So much for 80 degree warmth and sunshine. Anyway, I deplaned in good time, took only five minutes to get through immigration, my bags were among the first off the conveyer belt, and so I was the first through customs. Mom was there to meet me, dressed up like a muscovite with her black hat and black mink coat. I wrapped myself up in Jen's scarf and entered wonderfully refreshing cold. The drive reminded me a lot of Beijing, the kind of gray crumblingness, the gaudy desperate attempts to cover the decay, the massive public housing complexes. For someone so heavily drilled to work only orthogonally, the apartment staggered me momentarily, since the hall bisected the rooms at a 45 degree angle, causing all the doors to the rooms to be at the corners. The bathroom is a real peice of work; part Trump Towers, part Starship Enterprise, part Atlantis.
Hmmph. Just sat down and suddenly I feel like I can barely keep my eyes open. Danged jet lag. I was only able to grab a few hours of sleep on the plane. After I arrived, mom took me shopping. We went to a drugstore, and then to the grocery store, then to the liquor store. It's really quiet now, as Tay and Dad have to fight traffic for hours to get home. Chili for dinner.

Dec 15, 2004

Close-Knit

Today I spent studying for my final in religion and popular culture. Took the test with about a quarter of the class as the final was optional. I found out I got an A on my Life of Pi paper, but I wanted to do what I could to bring my exam averages up. It's a toss up as to if I'll get an A to a B. We have the + and - system now, with A+ being a 4.33 and B as a 3.0. Also figured that no matter what I get on my computer modeling portfolio, I'll most certainly get a B+ to a B. However, I'm confidant I have at least an A in sociology, and perhaps even an A+. (This for the class which has taught me next to nothing). The exam in Relgion wasn't hard, but it was short essay questions, so we shall see.
Did laundry at the coinless laundromat tonight, and I thought about how mom must envy me. After I got back from the laundromat, Jen gave Ben his Haunaka present and me my Christmas present. It was a little early, but she couldn't wait. Ben got a whisky glass with the Jack Daniels logo on it, something he'd eyed wistfully before. Jen knitted me a gorgeous lambswool scarf. Its charcoal grey and with cable stitching that reverses halfway, and its about seven feet long. She made it for me to take to Moscow and Salt Lake. I havn't finished wrapping her present yet, but I'll give it to her tomorrow. Wish me luck on my Sociology Exam at 7:30 AM tomorrow morning!

Dec 13, 2004

Icee Monday

Last night I went to do some field research by attending a youth group service at a local church with Jen and Amy. To my surprise, behind the alter table, there was a band set up with electric guitars and drums. They have replaced the organ and chancel choir. It is interesting that alternitive rock has become as means of worship as the songs they played, people (all teens to early twenties) stood and lifted thier hands in worship. Anyway, after we got back I was dismayed to find a two and a half foot long scratch/dent in the van door. I was not happy as we are trying to sell the cars, but I should be glad that nothing has happended to the convertable yet (knock on wood). Its just an expense and a pain.
Had a busier day today. Started by getting up at 8 and working at the habitat warehouse for about five hours. I had one volunteer to help me and together we moved a bunch of doors and framed windows. After she left at noon, I mostly hauled furanture around with the help of a pallet jack. After that, I drove up to scottsdale to pick up Taylor's orthodontal records. They must have though I was some kind of transient when I walked in, still filthy from working at the warehouse. We had a high of 80 today and so I stopped on the way home to grab an icee.
After a short nap, I finished my Religion essay and started to study for the test tomorrow. Updates later.

Dec 12, 2004

The Prodigal Brother

Wow, what a day. Not only did I lose my brother in one of the most crime-ridden developed countries in the world, but I also got him back. And I never even knew about it. Poor mom, it reminds me of the time I abandoned Taylor in Singapore.
Last night I went to a party at the crazy house. Didn't stay too long. It was unusally quiet there.
Personally, I had a really relaxing day. I slept in and had muffins for breakfast, then I finished putting my studio pictures on the disc and turned them in. It was a gorgeous day here, got up to 79 degrees. I broke out my sandals and tee-shirts and drove around in the convertable with the top down. Also bought a wool hat for moscow. It's odd to think that in less than a week I'll be some place so cold that mercury freezes. Today I also did some more work on my religious architecture essay. Had frozen pizzas for dinner. After I read that mom wasn't going to be making cookies this year, I set out to bake Rolo cookies. I don't think I got the right recipie of the internet. It was good, but not great.
Tomorrow I'll finish my essay and do some more studying.

Dec 10, 2004

The Missing Week

I've had a fairly uneventful week, and one of the most surprisingly relaxed finals weeks I've ever had. I had one final monday, and I've got one next tuesday and wednesday. My other classes just require projects and papers. For pop culture and religion, I'm writing a paper on religious architecture, a really interesting and controversal field of design. I've read perspectives on it from athiest architects to pastors, and they all agree that the main purpose of the church is to assist people in the awareness of God. The other project is a computer modeling protfolio, which I just finished yesterday. That was just fun to do. I wish I could say that I struggled and stressed out all night to heroically finish by the today, but last night Jen, Amy, Ben, and I all went out to Bison Witches, a really good deli with massive sandwiches.
After we got back, Ben and I exchanged presents. I gave him a Chanuka present (wrapped in reversed Christmas wrapping paper) of a book of American Phrases and thier origins. He gave me Master and Commander, a movie which I haven't seen yet.
Speaking of presents, I got all of my Christmas shopping done and all the presents wrapped earlier this week.
Today I'll turn my computer modeling project in, work some more on my religion paper, and start some reading I need to do for my optional final in Pop Culture and Religion.

Dec 7, 2004

Architecture final- Done!

Took my architecture final this morning. I think I got an A on it, although it's hard for me to tell. Fortunately it's counted only as one of the regular exams (there are four total), so I think I will be able to swing an A for that class. I'm feeling really solid in sociology. Got my paper back on the culture of the architecture school with a 95% on it. There are people in the class who still don't know what a survey is. That final is the last day of school the 15th, the day before I take off for Moscow. Today after my classes, I finished another image for my formZ computer modeling class portfolio. I put a picture of it online here. Took about two days to make, althogh the painting on the screen really sells the image. I also started work on a futurisitic castle. Tomorrow, I think I have only one class in the late afternoon, so a good time to get some errands run. Wednesday there's no school, and thursday, finals begin. At least, for most other people. :)

Dec 2, 2004

Merry Kitschmas!

It's officially Christmastime, according to Frys, Target, and MSNBC. Well, thank goodness for these helpful indicators of when its time to start shopping. However, it did put me in kind of a christmas mood, so I put up a paper snowflake in the widow, and a paper snowdrift on the ledge. The woman next door must think that we're absolutely nuts, with the gruesome rotting skull and chains on halloween, now a little christmas kitsch. I've got a handle on my final projects and exams, and its kind of strange because I feel really relaxed and not stressed at all. All my friends are going nuts over their final exams in this "crunch week" (finals start next thursday). I'm doing the work I need to, getting stuff done, studying, but I'm oddly at peace. Maybe next to the nightmarish crunch of architecture, this is nothing. My finals this year are actually pretty simple.
Arch studio: we have to photograph all our models and turn them in on a disk. Thats it. Thank you very much.
Arch Lecture: a final exam, not even cumulative, covering the postmodernists and unclassifiables like Scarpa and Barragan. (I'll take those two any day of the week over More, what a nut job!)
FormZ: a portfolio of 5-10 models from formZ, three of which can be our last projects already accomplished. I've already finished a fourth, rendering Grandpa Perkins old hanging telephone.
Sociology: A little tougher, an exam with an essay. But she gave us a list of terms and four essay questions to pick from .
Religion and Pop culture: an intersting assignment. 5 pages doublespaced on spirtuality in architecture, especailly postmodern, since its postmodern architecture for postmodern religion.
Easy as pie. We'll just have to see about grades. I'll know better by next week. I know for sure I have an A in architecture studio though.

Dec 1, 2004

Final Crunch (take two!)

It's good to be home, but I've had better days. Didn't get much sleep last night, not good since I got into town late as it was. Found out I'd overdrawn my account at one point, so I was hit with a heavy overdraft fee. Then my Cox email account quit on me. After ditching computer modeling to finish a short paper on two chapters I forgot to read for today, the teacher said that she was no longer requiring papers. My grades in that class also indicate that I've missed two of those papers, but its impossible to figure out my final grade since the TA hasn't been doing her job. I think I can pull of an A though, but definately a B. I also had to pay eight dollars for a thick packet of architecture readings, and that our test is NEXT MONDAY in that class. When I went to air up my tires, the pump broke, so I had to find my mini-pump to air them up. It just feels like I've been running around all day.

Some good things that happened were that I got a lot of small errands done, like depositing checks, doing emails, etc, and I did get part of my reading done for architecture. We watched Dogma in Religion and popular culture, which was fun and just what I needed. Suki's finally calmed down and not in our faces all the time demanding attention. The cox email account was re-activated quickly and easily after I called up thier customer support. Dinner could have been better, but I'll go grocery shopping tomorrow. At least my headache went away. I wonder if its a sugar addiction headache. I'll have to keep an eye on that. Oh, and the last good thing is that in architecture, our last project is to take a bunch of pictures of our models and submit them on disc. Well, thats all for now, gonna get some sleep.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...