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Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Russian Front


These days there are times when I feel like a German soldier trapped in the rubble of Stalingrad, with nowhere to run as the Red Army slowly tightens the noose. Studying Russian has become an exercise in frustration, as it feels as if little progress has been made since the start of the new year, not just stagnating but maybe even regressing. I'm the first to admit the desire and motivation have been lagging in recent weeks, but part of the problem has also been the teaching approach of my most recent instructor. She isn't a bad teacher; far from it, in fact, as she has demonstrable skills and an enthusiastic approach to teaching the language to non-speakers. It's just that her method, with its focus on writing, memorizing and reciting short presentations on various topics such as the American family or the presidential election (which admittedly is part of the curriculum), isn't producing the desired results for a student like myself, who needs drilling and repetition of grammar points and sentence structures (another way of saying I lack the imagination ability at this stage to think for myself in Russian). Unfortunately, the current instructor wasn't devoting as much time as I would've liked to textbook exercises and reviews of workbook assignments. I was, therefore, looking forward to the next scheduled rotation of teachers and the opportunity to possibly reunite with an earlier instructor under whom I had made significant progress in my language studies.

Well, the rotation has come and gone, and I still have the same teacher. For my classmate likes her - mainly because, as he puts it, he had put a lot of time and effort into "train(ing) her". When he realized that another instructor rotation was looming on the horizon, he went to the language training supervisors and lobbied hard to keep her in our classroom. And so no changes were made...because not one person in the Russian section bothered to ask me what I thought about the situation. My belated protests were met with genuine surprise by the supervisors, who admitted they just assumed my classmate was speaking for me. The requisite apologies were proffered and promises were made for the when the next rotation comes around, but at this point I could be forgiven for not believing anything anyone says to me anymore. 

All of this happened not long after being told (not advised) by the person supposedly responsible for my "career development" on how I had better find a "Chinese-speaking doctor" ("there are many in this area") in order that my spouse could take my daughter to be an evaluated by an orthodontist (presumably one fluent in Mandarin), and so leave my time free to concentrate on Russian. I really wanted to tell this person what they could do with their advice, particularly as how we go about choosing physicians for our family is of no concern of any bureaucrat, but a career development officer can easily turn into a career destruction officer, so I kept my mouth shut (and have resolved to avoid any future interactions with this person, who does seem like the vindictive type. And, no, I'm not going to search for doctors who speak Chinese - I'll stick with the ones we've been seeing up to now). At least I wasn't lectured on what matters are considered important "in our Anglo-Saxon culture", which happened recently to a colleague of mine (by the same person, of course).

Shanghai was a great first post, and the feedback I've been getting from my future colleagues at my next post (Vilnius) also augur well. Unfortunately, it's all the excrement that goes on between assignments, especially the lack of communication, that makes one wonder if this is the right career...

...but as long as there are daughters and pandas, it's worth putting up with the dementors in Washington until we can get overseas again. Taking Amber to the National Zoological Park this afternoon (our third visit) proved to be very therapeutic, even if  Bei Bei was asleep and could only be seen on Pandacam:


Several other pandas were on display today, though the first one we saw was pacing back and forth along the wall at the back of its enclosure, a sign the poor animal was feeling stressed:


It's neighbor, on the other hand, seemed much more content with its lot in life:



Two minutes and four seconds of a giant panda who couldn't give a toss, as filmed by my daughter:



Another panda, this one hanging out indoors, also had the right attitude:


It wasn't all pandas this afternoon. The elephant house was a new addition since our last visit:


"What, and get out of show business?!":


At the Small Mammal House, a shy baby armadillo refuses to greet its admirers:


Amber took this picture of baby mongooses (and, yes, I checked on the plural form):


My daughter chills with an orangutan on a chilly day:


Feeding time for the fish in the Amazonia Exhibit:


Amber noticed that this creature was protecting its eggs:


This colorful bird had a fetish for loosening shoelaces:


Going home from the zoo turned into a minor ordeal as it took more than ninety minutes on D.C.'s beleaguered Metro system for the two of us to get back, on a trip that should have taken no more than half that amount of time. The already scheduled 20-minute intervals between Orange Line trains on the weekend (due to maintenance work) turned into an indefinite wait at Metro Center station when it was announced (though could barely be heard over the PA) that there was an "emergency" at the next station, McPherson Square (which turned out to be an "unauthorized person on the tracks" there). I've ridden on subways or similar public transportation systems in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, London, Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei 台北, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and in several cities in Japan (Tōkyō 東京, Sapporo 札幌, Nagoya 名古屋, Kyōto 京都, Ōsaka 大阪 and Fukuoka 福岡), but the Metro in Washington has been the worst of them, by far. True, it does get people from point A to point B (eventually), and when the system is functioning as it should, it's an effective way to reach most of the points of interest in the District of Columbia. And Saturday's person-on-the-track incident may not have been Metro's fault - even a subway system has efficiently-run as Tokyo's sometimes is brought to a halt due to the occasional suicide jumper or act of god (earthquakes, typhoons etc.). But the Metro has a long, sad track record of delays and interrupted service, and is a source of justified grumbling for residents in this area.


A couple of inches of snow fell overnight Wednesday and on Thursday morning. With temperatures expected to reach into the sixties and seventies Fahrenheit next week, this may have been winter's last gasp. Then again, it's been a strange season...:





 







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