Thursday, 4 January 2018

Shoes are for Losers

新年快乐!

I opened up my laptop to write a post looking back on this first semester abroad, but I'm Canadian, so what came out was a treatise on the local weather, instead.

The first thing you need to know about this place is that it's far enough north that the temperature has dropped almost to zero. I am told that sometimes it drops further. However, it is not far enough north to persuade developers to include furnaces in buildings. Sometimes, they slap on an A/C unit that does some convection heating (but your school's money-saving department will refuse to turn them on until "the weather drops"). The end result is that all the Russian and Canadian expats spend most of their time shivering and commiserating together about how stupid it is to have insides just as cold as outside, and fondly remembering how warm it is back home, while the expats from less frigid regions buy a couple of space heaters and stoically march on.

The second thing you need to know about this place is that it's wet. If I were to leave tomorrow, one of my primary memories would be of the colourful umbrellas. Everyone has an umbrella. They're parasols when it's hot and dry. They're handy when you want to sell your grandson or granddaughter in the park to be married.They're useless when the sky is doing that fine-misty-spit-at-you-from-every-direction thing. But most importantly, they are all lined up in the university halls, opened in colourful blooms to dry out from the rain while everyone is in class, or they're undulating down the walkway as the crowd streams out of the metro station. I had umbrellas in Canada - almost never used them. They are an utter necessity here, and there's just something that makes me undeniably happy about seeing a professionally outfitted businessman trotting down the street holding a dainty rainbow-coloured umbrella over his head.
Put these two things together - the temperature and the wetness, and what you get is a gross, chilly, and humid winter. No matter. I still had to buy a humidifier anyway, because the two convection A/C units warming my apartment (together with my space heater) are so constantly on that they suck all moisture out of the air and give me a sore throat. I should be grateful, though. A student expat buddy from Ghana spent his first semester here living in student dorms. He says that in addition to no furnaces, nobody bothered to put any insulation into his dorm, either. At night, he'd crank the A/C to its max 30 degrees, but convection heaters don't really do squat if the heat just waltzes out through your thin walls. He was trying to sleep while he could still see his breath.

My situation is much more manageable, except that since I've been getting to the office with soggy cold socks lately, it's made proper sitting uncomfortable. First I take off my shoes and socks because cold and dry feet are infinitely superior to cold and wet ones. Then I have to tuck my feet under me because that's much warmer than on the floor or dangling in the cold air. Most of my colleagues are professional and haven't made mention of my habits, but the guy who uses the desk next to mine did at one point have to stop grading papers to comment.

"You know," he chuckled, "You're reminding me of a character from an anime I used to watch."
For those of you who have watched Death Note, I'm sure you'll agree that he was referring to my intelligence.

Although, this position could also be influenced by the mess on my desk, which makes me want to be as small as possible in order to avoid adding additional chaos with flailing limbs.

Today, my director of studies (henceforth known as my DoS) came into the office to collect us all for a team picture.

"Everyone," he declared, "come on out for a group picture and is Carla wearing shoes?"

Indeed, I was not. But I put them on so I wouldn't look like a dweeb in the group picture. Here is it, by the way (minus two colleagues whom none of us apparently noticed were missing until after we were back in the office).
Maybe next time I'll tell you how the semester has gone. Maybe you'll get to know everything there is to know about my pet hamster, Chesterton, instead. Time will tell.
"Every man is worth an umbrella." from Dostoevsky's Demons

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