September 29th, 2005

long beard

cars, pills, and tips

Typed yesterday, September 28th

Whew. Today I’m serving penance for my medical failure. Remember how I used to complain about the fluid behind my eardrums? I guess I was neglecting that, because now it’s developed into something slightly more sinister, and the result has been that the night before last I could barely swallow, and when I did I had to mentally quote “Suffer, *****,” from a particularly amusing bit of a Dan Savage column (August 18th, 2005) in order to keep my humour. Now, fortunately, I have the assistance of the best medications available (or the worst; there’s no way for me to tell) and this morning I’m feeling only a minor ache where before I was experiencing full-tilt “discomfort.”

My medication consists of two sets of pills, an aerosol mouth spray, as well as nose drops and ear drops. I see a sort of comfort in that; there’s a desire to attack the problem from all possible angles at once instead of the more North American method of trying one thing at a time and suggesting a change in lifestyle habits. The latter method might be more valuable to medical science in the long run, but I’m sure you’ll agree that even with the most minor and mundane headache, one does not give a moon pebble about the scientific method, one just wants to get better, yesterday. But it’s a good thing that these methods aren’t applied to our automobiles – for though our steel progeny would always get “better,” our repair bills would routinely come to tens of thousands of dollars while our mechanics replaced every single part that could possibly be faulty, simultaneously.

Even going to the hospital was an adventure in itself. Eduard (our supervisor) hired a cab from Ostroh Academy, and so I found myself riding in the back seat of a recent-vintage Volga. It was the nicest car I’d been in for over three months. It had a bit of faux wood panelling and what looked like the original upholstery, as well as a digitally-tuned AM/FM/cassette stereo. As we weaved our way through the Ostroh street, I searched in vain for a seatbelt, but there was none. The front seats had seatbelts, but neither Eduard nor the driver were wearing them. Out of curiosity, I looked in the cabins of the other cars, and I didn’t see anyone else wearing a seatbelt, either. You’d think in a country where people drive as fast as their car can take them* and where the no-passing line (if one exists) is just a suggestion, seatbelts would be seen as something of a godsend. On that note, all of the taxi and marshutky drivers have all manner of Orthodoxy ornamentation hanging from their sun visors and rear-view mirrors. I guess Jesus is their seatbelt.

* - Fortunately, with most of the cars, this isn’t very fast, and the ones that can go fast are out of your sight and out of your way faster than a typical neutrino. You could say that the real hazards are the horse-drawn wagons.

These cabs also don’t have meters, but there is an advantage to this, as you can (and should) negotiate your fare in advance. So I can just say “Novy misto, budlaska,” and the cabbie will say, “shist hryvnyy,” and that will be that. I can just relax and enjoy the ride without having to worry about parting with more than that $1.50 – if he wants more, he’ll say something or just let me out prematurely, I would imagine. Also, it goes without saying that there is no sign saying, “This is a non-smoking cab,” and you might be grateful that the windows roll down easily.

The hospital was interesting; well, it was really more like a clinic. There were many doctor’s offices as well as a pharmacy, as far as I could tell. Sure, there were missing floor tiles and the walls were dingy, but I only had to wait fifteen minutes to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. The doctor was a kindly fellow that reminded me of some of my favourite doctors back home. He wrote out my prescription on some pink paper and then Eduard and I walked downstairs to the pharmacy.

After we returned to his office to go over the instructions, Eduard and I had an impromptu discussion about Canadian medicine. It seems that a certain group member (whom shall here remain nameless) needed to get some kind of gland removed way back when, but only part of it was removed, and the remainder was left to become a nuisance again here in Ukraine, so here it was removed completely. This person’s experience has prompted a bit of a fear of the Ukrainian medical system, as this person was once required to go daily for, colloquially speaking, “a shot in the ass.” It hurt this person every bit as much as the rest of us found it hilarious. And then Eduard and I talked about the problem with my ears, and I told him that I was once told that with a few dietary changes, it would clear right up. Eduard’s response, “Those Canadian doctors get some funny ideas sometimes!”

So let’s backtrack a bit, to Lindsay’s birthday party. Well, this was great fun. If you want to get good at American Pool, try playing Russian Billiards. After playing the latter, the former seems like a children’s game, and you’ll be slamming them in the pockets like nobody’s business. Russian Billiards – while not requiring the use of the red cue ball after the break, and possessing the allowance that you can pocket absolutely any ball you like, just as long as you use one ball to hit another – introduces two new challenges. First, the table is ten billion kilometres wide, and secondly, the pockets are the size of the buttons on a calculator wristwatch. It’s a good game for the entertainment of your friends, as they see your limbs flailing about in your attempt to set up the only sure shot on the table. Of course, this attempt will fail, because you are not eleven feet tall.

In addition to pool and billiards, we also enjoyed some cake and beer, before going our separate ways to separate places. I ended up at Karo with some of the youth exchange participants. Ah, we had a great time. In particular, I remember one of the girls (again, here we go with the nameless thing), who had had a few beers, said to me – well, wait, let me set it up:

“Will, what is the difference between ‘laptop’ and ‘notebook?’”
“Well, there is a slight difference, but really they’re interchangeable-”
Interruption: “Don’t f*****g say ‘interchangeable!’ Don’t use words like that! Nobody can understand you!”

It was probably true. Anyway, after having a good laugh, I explained my understanding of the difference, which was that notebooks tend to be small and light, such that all notebooks were laptops but not all laptops were notebooks. And after that I made an effort to avoid words like ‘interchangeable,’ ‘ostensibly,’ and many other words that I turn off when I’m explaining narrative passages in the English classes I teach.

And – this is backtracking a lot – it’s generally a good idea to refrain from singing along to the Beatle’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.” when you happen to hear it in the cafés and bars in Ukraine. =) It doesn’t matter if you’re with a bunch of self-avowed Beatles fans who requested the compilation CD be played in the first place – it’s better not to have the experience of explaining that the song is supposed to be an ironic take on too-happy tunes like the Beach Boy's “California Girls” or Chuck Berry's “Back in the U.S.A.” Just a mental note for the future that I’ve been meaning to post here. =)

If no Ukrainians are watching you, look up the
Ukrainian SSR in Wikipedia. The national anthem alone rivals the offerings of the DPRK news agency website for cynical laughs - of course, the latter is updated daily. Oooh! Kim Jong II's Selected Works Vol. 15 has been published!