Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to keep warm in Siberia

While Novosibirsk is not exactly the most ideal place for expats, living here is not as bad as I had expected. Before coming here i'd imagined that we would be riding dog-pulled sleds and eating whale blubber. For one, Siberia has always been depicted as a vast barren plane of ice in American movies. Secondly, there was very limited reference material about Siberia on the internet so i was left with only my imagination (which is very much influenced by American media).

Yes, locals have confirmed that it could get as cold as -50c here during winter but only for a maximum period of 1 week. The same way that in Manila we expect typhoons to come and go during the wet season. It's not constantly -50c as i first thought it would be. The average winter temp is around -15c to -20c, which is manageable if you have proper winter clothing.

Speaking of clothing, we really made a good call on the down jackets from Northface. It was a bit pricey but it does keep us warm and healthy. P and I both have a tri-climate jacket and a down jacket from Northface that we mix and match depending on the temperature. On cold days with snow or strong winds, i attach my down jacket to the waterproof shell. On very cold days, i wear the fleece lining from the tri-climate jacket with my down jacket and just a regular sweater as inner wear. I also wear leggings underneath my pants for extra warmth.

Morskoy Prospekt

Shoes with good insulation and proper traction are a must-have. I brought one very dependable all-terrain hiking shoes that is water repellant which i use most of the time because it's warm and keeps me from slipping on the icy sidewalks. On days when it's snowing and the sidewalks are covered with a layer of fresh snow, i can wear my leather boots with heels because it's not as slippery. Note to reader, boots must have lining to keep your feet warm.

Aside from a warm jacket and proper shoes, it is also important to have a thick warm bonnet and gloves for good insulation. I think the best place to buy warm bonnets and gloves would be here. I just purchased a new bonnet last weekend and it did feel a lot warmer than the one i used to wear. Siberians never go outside without a hat. You can leave home without your gloves but never leave home without your bonnet.

The best advice i got from locals is to stay indoors when it gets really cold. The heating in Novosibirsk is centralized and so all the buildings are well-heated.

Contrary to what i initially imagined, Novosibirsk is nothing at all like that scene from Tomb Raider. It is a proper city with well-developed infrastructure and highly-educated citizens.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Life in Russia

It's been 3 months since my last post. I would like to think that i've been busy but the truth of the matter is i was just too lazy to compose anything.

It's been more than a month since P and I moved to Novosibirsk, Russia. I'm sure you're wondering where the heck is Novo-what's-it's-name. Well, Novosibirsk is the 3rd largest city in Russia, next to St. Petersburg and Moscow. It is considered the business and cultural center of Siberia and is home to Akademgorodok - a unique university town founded during the cold war to become Russia's science mecca in the Sibierian region. Akademgorodok was designed to provide ideal living and working conditions for scientisits and so it was built in a forest area bordered by a botanical garden and the Ob Sea. While Akademgorodok is still the center of academic life in Novosibirsk, it is has also evolved to become the "Silicon Taiga" of Siberia what with the popularity of IT business in this area. With its ideal setup and beautiful surroundings, it has no doubt become the address of choice for the affluent Siberian. Fortunately for us, we live in this elite neighborhood.

Living here is not as difficult as i expected. Aside from the extremely cold weather, everything else is manageable. I spent the first week exploring the area and going through the isles in the grocery to see what was available. On our second week i had already familiarized myself with the place and the goods and was able to cook dinner every night since. I attend Russian language lessons 3 times a week and i also teach English in the same language school 4 times a week. Just this week i finally found the courage to ride the public bus and the marshrutka (shuttle) on my own...easy as pie :) I would still prefer to walk but since it's getting really cold riding public transport is the most practical choice.

Russian is one of the most difficult languages to learn (and understand). Adjectives change depending on the gender of the noun and the verbs change depending on the person/subject. The most useful phrases for me would be " Ya nye garvoryoo Pa-Ruski" (I can't speak Russian) and "Ya nye panyal" (I don't understand). I don't know if i will ever progress from simple tenses but knowing a little Russian is better than nothing.

Some notable observations about people and life in Russia:
a. They really drink a lot of alcohol.
b. When eating out, drinks would probably cost more that your food. One because beverages are expensive. Second because you will most likely be pressured to drink a lot of alcohol.
c. They dont salt the sidewalks here so it is more practical for moms to put their toddlers on sleds than on strollers.
d. Russian ladies snack on a lot of sweets and chocolates but they don't get fat.
e. Never go outside without your bonnet.
f. They still eat a lot of ice cream even in below zero temperature. You will find an ice cream kiosk in most major streets.
g. Tea is more popular than coffee.
h. It is common to see teens or adult men drinking beer while walking in the sidewalk.
i. I have never seen a policeman or any law enforcer since we came here.
j. Heating is centralized.
k. They don't bother to clean their cars anymore.
l. When it gets extremely cold, car engines are left running during the night so the gas won't freeze.

Will try to write more about life in Russia in my next entry. Pakka!


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