More frustrations...

We're back in the classroom today, awaiting the arrival of the projector and TV, so we can complete our mission. Breakfast started off with the usual tomatoes and cucumbers, which none of us even touched. Even Alexey is sick of it, that's all there is to it. We then had some of the meat-pancakes that I didn't like the first time around, though Chuck ate them this time. I had some of the excellent bread and cheese, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they'd given us butter for the bread today, even though we've never asked for it there. Most Russians don't put butter on bread, so Americans usually need to request it special. The bread here is very good, but it just gets a bit dry without the butter, though the breakfast-bread was quite good with just cheese. I had the usual tasty strawberry yogurt. I washed out a couple of t-shirts this morning in my sink, as the jeans and polo shirt that I washed yesterday had dried. I'm starting to get a little better at doing laundry by hand, but we're going to see if we can locate they mythical washing machine that I've been told exists somewhere in the building by past visitors from UNI.

I realized that I had to visit the bathroom about an hour after we arrived here in the main building, and didn't want to walk back to our dorm. I decided to take a look at the bathroom on the floor below us, in the hopes that it was better than the one above us, before I gave up and walked back to my room. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was much nicer than the one on the fifth floor, with completely different fixtures. I'm not saying I'd want to eat off the floor or anything, but using a urinal was just fine, and I might be persuaded to use the toilet in a pinch. The door didn't close, so I felt a bit exposed urinating in semi-public, but when in Rome...

That is one thing that we noticed on the street, the chicken place (which I think translates to Rothic's) near our dorm has the women's bathroom at just above street level, with a giant picture window installed at waist height. Now, there's nothing immodest about it, there are stalls within the bathroom, but it was a bit odd the first day when we were walking down the sidewalk, glanced to the right, and found ourselves staring into the women's restroom.

As long as this discussion has gone into the proverbial toilet already, I'm going to comment a bit on Russian plumbing. I haven't seen all that many examples, so some of this may be specific to this school, but the toilets are definitely different. The toilet in my room (I actually have two half-baths, one room/closet has a sink and shower, one room/closet has a sink and toilet. I think that my room may normally be shared by two students, with two bedrooms, rather than the bedroom/living room combo that I have) is located about 5 inches back from the wall in front of it. It's claustrophobic to say the least. You can wedge back in there to sit on it, but if you're tubby like me, you find your nose about three inches from the wall in front of you. This also prevents you from reading the newspaper on the can.

The water level in Russian toilets is much lower, there's probably not more than 2-3 cups of water in the bowl, which has a different shape from the typical American crapper. There's a slope running from the back of the bowl to the front, so anything you deposit at the rear slips down that dry porcelain to the front, leaving behind some tracks. To flush, you lift upwards on a knob that's mounted on top of the toilet tank in the center. This releases water at the top of the bowl, which rushes down the slope and manages to clear the bowl about one in five tries, but that's probably just the unit in my room.

I was warned about Russian toilet paper, but I don't think it's any worse than "institutional" toilet paper in the U.S. I tried it, and it was usable. Sure, it's not squeezably soft, but I doubt you could use it as sand paper. It is, however, a brown paper color, sort of like paper grocery sacks in the US, which makes sense, there's no practical reason to bleach toilet paper, when you think about it. The one thing to beware is that many public toilets have no toilet paper, or you must pay for it, or you might have to pay to even use the toilet. I found that Charmin makes portable toilet paper rolls (I got mine at Wal-Mart in the US) so i brought some with me that I just carry in one of my coat pockets. I haven't had to use them yet, other than for the bloody nose I had yesterday.

One more toilet-related tidbit: The urinals at TGI Friday's have ice cubes in them. Well, actually ice cylinders with holes in them, anyhow, you know what I mean. There's ice in there, which is kind of cool (it gives you something to aim for) I'm not sure why it's done. Maybe this is a TGI Friday's thing? I've never been in one back in the States.

My shower is interesting as well, it has one of those hand-held shower heads, which would be unremarkable, except there's no wear to hang it, so you have to hold it in your hand the whole time. This makes shampooing and lathering somewhat difficult. To compound the problem, they don't use water-saving showerheads here, which gives you tremendous water pressure. This feels great when you're in the shower, but has the side-effect of turning the shower head into a cartoon fire hose when you release it. I've worked around this by learning to grasp the shower head with my toes and hold it near the floor of the tub while I shampoo my hair. It's somewhat difficult, as I can't see worth a damn without my glasses on, but it gets the job done.

Especially fun were my second and third attempts with the shower. The light bulb blew when I turned on the light on my second morning, and I spent the rest of the weekend showering in the dark, until I could get the bulb replaced. This actually wasn't that bad, as I'm severely nearsighted, and I'm used to fumbling around blind in the shower.

But enough about plumbing. The MISA network went down about a half-hour before we were supposed to eat lunch, apparently they've lost their internet connection which runs through Moscow State. They didn't have an estimate of when it would return to service, so we went to lunch at the on-campus bar.

They spruced up the usual cucumber and tomato salad by adding in some green peppers today. I half-heartedly ate the cucumbers, and some of the tomatoes. Alexey didn't even touch his salad, he said he's reached his yearly limit for cucumbers. The next course was soup, which Chuck thought was chicken, but turned out to be fish. He got some lovely fish bones in his mouthful, and I had some bits with the skin still attached in mine. We decided to just pick out the potatoes after that, and Alexey helpfully asked the cook/waitress to please not subject us to any more seafood for the rest of the week. The main course was pretty good, french fries, kidney beans, and chicken. It was dark meat, but pretty tasty after adding a bit of salt. I have to say, the chicken I've had here is far better than the beef, though the pork was quite good yesterday.

I don't want to sound like Russian cooking is all crap, or anything. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a picky eater, it's just compounded by me not being allowed to select what I'm getting to eat, nor even know what's coming until the waitress appears with each course. I'd have a hard time being served random American food for a week without complaining, though at least usually I'd be told what it was. The first minute of each course is spent with Alexey, Chuck, and I speculating about what it is we're about to eat.

After returning from lunch, Yuri informed us that the network still wasn't up. Since we were scheduled to start a video conference test with UNI in under two hours, we grew a bit nervous. I played some Civilization III on my PowerBook while Alexey played some Half Life on a PC in the room there. At 3:30, I departed for Friday's, so that I could tell the U.S. that we weren't going to be able to test as scheduled, as the network has been down now for four hours.

And that's where this post finds me, sitting in Friday's, waiting for the MISiS/MISA network to come back online. Oh, and the equipment still hasn't arrived...