Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Free WiFi...just another thing to love about McDonalds

Yes, I am eating Chicken Mcnuggets, fries, and an ice-cold Coke while browsing the web on my iPhone. And yes, these are the ony 3 things I realy know how to order. And no, they don't have diet coke (at least not the good fountain kind), so I satisfy my desire for a cold drink with regular Coke.

I haven't been able to post much lately because I'm still struggling to get reliable Internet at my house. This is proving to be quite a problem for a guy who has had either wifi or 3G Internet 24/7 for many years. Bu I haven't given up! Tomorrow I will try to talk with someone else about the Ethernet network at my apartment and figure out what must do to get it working.

I'm excited to go out to the ballet this weekend with Margarita, and I'm waiting on a couple of calls from possible employers. Crossing my fingers, even though the prospect of creating esl lesson plans is pretty daunting!

Time for me to go to bed. Paka!

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Flat

A week into my sojourn, I must say I am becoming very comfortable at home. My flat is spacious, with five rooms (living, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, and bath), nice laminate flooring, high ceilings, great light in every room, and very quiet. I have set up my computer in the main bedroom and am sitting here wondering if it is about time for me to crawl into bed. But not yet.  Here's my kitchen and living room.

Juxtaposition is Striking

Today I read with interest the latest news from the US that the Supreme Court ruled for the right of corporations and unions to directly provide financing for political campaigns, just as I also read an editorial in the Kiev Times lamenting the ties that both presidential candidates had to big businesses. Of course, Westerners call big business in Ukraine and Russia the Mafia, while in the US, they are simply businesses promoting the American Way. But the truth is, they are the same--in business for their own short-term profits, at any expense. 

Sure, most American corporations don't resort to violence to get what they want, but I suspect that is only because they don't need to. The voice of Corporate America is heard more loudly and firmly in Washington than any other already, and the Court's ruling makes it so loud that it will inevitably drown out anyone else's....if it could be heard before. 

Ukrainians must choose between the lesser of two evils in their presidential candidates while the international community scoffs at the endemic corruption of this system. But why don't the same people scoff at the outrageous power and influence big business has on the American political and social system? Is it not essentially the same? At least Ukrainians understand they're voting either for the candidate who makes some pretensions to democracy (Tymoshenko) and another who does not (Yanukovych). Americans don't even seem to realize that their interests have been completely abandoned in favor of corporate chieftains who make more money than God himself and who can only see as far as next quarter's performance. Read for yourself:



Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So Many Questions

I am well into my first week in Kharkov, and progress is slow at best and non-existent at times. One of the great things about being abroad for me is seeing the many ways in which a culture solves its problems. To combat the cold at home, we install double- and triple-paned windows with high tech gases between the panes. Here, I have two heavy rolling shutters over the main windows that I close every night, making my living room feel like a bunker. Is one better than the other? I don't know, and I don't care. I went into this adventure trying to eradicate my expectations and predispositions so that I could experience the culture honestly, so I will save these kinds of judgements for others.

I'm still having plenty of trouble, of course. I needed to mend a button on my coat but had no scissors to cut away the old threads. Today, though, I picked up the thing I found I have missed most: A Swiss Army pocketknife. With a tiny pair of scissors, a sharp little blade, and tweezers, I realized that this was one thing I shouldn't have forgotten. Now I can fix the button on my coat, trim my beard a little (I have seen no sign of beard trimmers yet, but I am hopeful), and do all the little things I used my knife for every day.

Margarita told me about a good language school that I hadn't heard of, and I planned to go to them today and give them my resume. But by the time I finished editing and printing it, I decided it was too late in the day to begin the walk. So I will go tomorrow.

I still have not adjusted my body clock to local time. I can fall asleep by around midnight, but I wake up every day at 4 a.m., tired, bored, and unsure what to do. By about 8 or 9, I'm very tired again, so I go back to sleep and end up sleeping the rest of the morning away. I hope this goes away soon...I have few hours of daylight to get anything accomplished with this kind of schedule.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Maybe I'm starting to get th hang of Ukranian shopping...it took m only a few minutes to find a shop selling stationary and other paper goods, so now I can print up my resume and hit the streets :) If only I could find another kind of paper--toilet paper--before the situation reaches a crisis...and I'm only a few sheets of Kleenex away!

Feeling Helpless...the first of many times

Today began the work of this venture. I have to secure a job, which means I probably should have brought some resumes with me...but of course, I didn't. Easy enough, right? Just print some more. Except for the fact that I didn't lug a printer with me to Ukraine, so that means one of two things: 1. Finding someplace who could print it, or 2. Getting a printer.

Since I expected I'd need a printer, both for drafts of my writing and for teaching materials, I chose, 2. Plus, they don't seem to have Kinko's (now Fed Ex Kinkos or Fed Ex Business Center), and I thought it might be harder to try to explain what I needed than it would be to purchase a printer. So off I went in the 10-degree afternoon air. I walked for about an hour before I saw something that looked like computers in the window of a store. I went in and found a cheap HP laser printer that I thought would probably work with my Mac. Fifteen minutes later (you pay first and then wait in line at a fulfillment area kind of like Circuit City used to do), I lugged my new printer home.

Smooth sailing...I finally got something accomplished. Except for one problem. Paper. I have none. I can't even figure out where they sell toilet paper (it was nowhere in the grocery stores), let alone office products. So, I will need help, once again, to get anything done here. The vast scope of culturally and linguistically specific things that you must undertake when entering a new country is just astounding. I'm sure I'll be learning this lesson over and over again....and I won't even tell you about my travails in getting good Internet!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slum or Luxury Flat?

So here is the first photo...my building's entrance, between a bar and a pizza place. Nothing is quite as it seems, at least to my American eyes.

Soon you'll see photos of the actual apartment. :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kharkov at Night

The street in front of my apartment was quiet as I stepped onto the snow- and ice-covered sidewalks. A frigid wind blew in my face and I began to walk. Up Pushkinskya Street and back. Past Internet cafes, a blues restaurant, and shuttered shops. It was just after nine o'clock and while the streets were not bustling as they had earlier in the day, many locals, bundled in fur coats and hats, shuffled by.

Without any doubt, I am a total outsider here. I can barely read the signs, order a meal, or engage in conversation. But for some reason, I feel comfortable in this very foreign place. I stopped into the closest bar, Pivobar, or Beer Bar, and sat at the counter to order a shot of Neimeroff Vodka, Ukraine's finest. I tried to order fifty ML but could only come up with the word for 100. So, "sto" ML of vodka later, I return to the street, to my gorgeous apartment on the second floor, on Furenze Street, still in need of basic things like toilet paper and soap, but having a kind of inner peace I have rarely found anywhere.

As soon as I have the energy, I'll start to post some photos of my neighborhood. Until then, I sleep.

My bartender, Dmitri, asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Kharkov, and we managed to communicate a few ideas before my lack of language skill stopped us.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lugging 200 pounds of junk across the World

I have just arrived in Kharkov, just 32 hours after I said goodbye to the kids in Chicago, and I successfully lugged two full camera kits, two full strobe setups, my desktop computer, and, oh yeah, some clothes through four airports. I'm exhausted.

Margarita met me at the airport and shuttled me off to the apartment she'd just secured for me yesterday. I have to say, she's amazing! This place is affordable, beautiful, spacious, maybe even perfect! I love it. Wood laminate flooring, renovated kitchen and bath with stainless appliances--including a dishwasher (a rarity in Ukraine)--as well as a 42" plasma TV in the living room, a desk, and a small study/extra bedroom. Pictures will be forthcoming soon, but for now, I'm going to wash the grime off me and go to bed. A great way to end this part of the journey.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Michael and Alyssa stood on each side of me, both crying, as we said goodbye this morning in front of the security checkpoint at OHare. Michael's hair wa still a little wet from his shower at the hotel moments before and his his head was fresh and cool as I kept kissing it. Alyssa was heaving as she cried next to me. I kissed her head too, afraid to look them in the eyes.

I did not want to cry. They worry about me too much already, so I tried to be comforting and strong. Now, on a chair across from a hot dog stand, my heart aches for them.

This is the trade off of a journey like this. Always balancing my desire to explore, change, and seek love and professional fulfillment with the desire to simply be near my kids. I want to be a role model, showing them that people need to risk failure in order to succeed, but I also want them to feel that I have their interests at heart as well. I have always felt my job as a parent is to raise wonderful people, thoughtful, kind, and happy. But the choices necessary to make such kids are not at all obvious.

I take the next step realizing its costs, to my family and to me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

About Kharkov

So why go to Kharkov, you might ask. Sure, Milwaukee sucked, but I could conceivably go anywhere. And in truth, there's really just one reason to go there, and her name is Margarita. She's charming, fun, and kind. She's beautiful. She's someone I love to spend time with. So that's a pretty good reason, I think. But there is more. 

I want to study Russian intensely, and Kharkov is a large (1.5 million population), non-touristy city right next to Russia that I can travel to without a visa. So I will be learning to swim in the deep end--hardly anyone there speaks English.  But I also loved my visit there last summer, and I think it will be an interesting place to be for a while. It has nice parks, good universities, and good people. And, perhaps, the woman of my dreams....

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Series of Lasts

This week has been scary and a little sad as I do all the "lasts" of Milwaukee. Last dinner at Stenys, last time at Dee's for American Idol & Leonardo's Pizza, last time at an English-speaking store, last time I write this blog in my home office. Tonight will be the last night in my condo. Tomorrow will be the last time I drive for months.

But soon, I will be experiencing a rush of firsts. In Kharkov. First apartment. First trip to the grocery store. First everything. It's nerve-wracking. It's exciting. It's time. Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

One Week Away

As the second big storm of the winter blankets Wisconsin in snow, I am at home surrounded by bags and clothes and camera gear, trying to figure out how to transport my life halfway across the world in two checked bags and carry ons. You'd think that after living in a 400-square-foot condo for three years, I wouldn't have much stuff. But it adds up.

Do I bring two winter coats? Or just wear the one I hope will keep me warm walking to the subway or waiting at the bus stop? Which clothes? Which lights? Which cameras (okay, I'm taking them all....a man must have priorities). Getting wrapped up in the minutiae of these questions helps me to forget about the bigger ones, so I pack and repack, I get travel insurance, I download apps for my iPhone that I hope will help me get along.

But today I'm trying to step back. In one week, I will be on a plane bound for Kharkov, Ukraine, flying on a one-way ticket. When I tell people about this move, they look at me with such a strange expression: Why would anyone want to move from the USA to Ukraine? In winter? With only limited employment prospects, and only the most rudimentary language skills? Why, indeed.

I have many answers, never too sure which are true and which are merely plausible. In the simplest sense, I have nothing to lose. This, I am told, is one of the biggest reasons a person becomes an Ex-Pat in the first place--down-on-their-luck Americans head overseas in search of something, anything, that might make a difference in their lives.

I am 43, divorced, unemployed, and can count my friends here on one hand. I spend days alone at home. And while solitude is grand, isolation breeds unhappiness. There's a huge emerging body of work which suggests that the biggest determinants of human happiness are closeness to friends, lovers, and family.  With no lover, few friends (none of whom I see often), and a family that is still hours away from me physically (and often much further away emotionally), I have been mired in deep depression for most of my stay here.

This is not to say my family isn't wonderful. In fact, they are. My parents, who live two and a half hours away, have been supportive of this move. I see them regularly. I couldn't even attempt this adventure if it weren't for them. And even more important are my two children, one in college and one in middle school. While I see my older daughter less often now, we are close. And I am even closer with my son. It is painful to leave him at all. But I feel I must leave, at least for a little while.

Which brings me to the second reason I feel the need to go. My life here has been on a downward spiral for some time. I have picked up some bad habits that must change. I have become lazy. I quit writing. I need to shake things up, and this certainly qualifies. I have always been a wanderer, a lover of adventure, so when things don't work, I tend to be ready to move on and try something new. Maybe I don't understand contentment. Maybe I am simply unsatisfied. Or maybe I am still looking for someplace, or someone, that feels like home.