William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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Canadian Night (Or, the post in which I'm very, very wrong many, many times)

(Composed Monday, November 28)

For something that required two posts just to narrate the aftermath, the Canadian Night CAP site fundraiser wasn’t all that severe. We had a pretty good time with it and we learned a lot about how to put on such an event in Ostroh in the future – we won’t be doing that, of course, but future groups can certainly benefit from our experience.

Shelley and I were responsible for getting Canadian music for this event, and while our participants’ individual collections were fairly comprehensive, we were missing the few key songs and groups that would take us over the top. So of course we were required to use the internet, which in Ostroh is like trying to grow a palm tree in Dawson City.

I remember one night last week when I wanted to upload my blog: at the academy, I could only log onto one computer, and on that computer I could only access two websites: LiveJournal (pleasantly enough), and my own website; so I couldn’t get the links I needed, so then I tried both of the cybercafés, and I was denied at both locations. Naturally, the kids laughed at me again at the first place, and at the second the guy behind the counter didn’t even look up at me or ask what I wanted for nearly five minutes before I finally asked him if they had internet. Answer, “No! No internet!” A reminder to me that I ought not to be so fussy.

It’s a pity, but maintaining this stupid little blog has been by far my biggest ongoing effort of this exchange. Maybe I should get my priorities straight, but I really really like to write and I hope you like to read it too OMG LJ-CUT FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY

So I’m out with Amy and Lee at Marseilles one night a few days before the event, and Shelley phones Amy in a panic, so Amy leaves to console Shelley. Something terrible must have happened. Later on they both come back, and Shelley tells me the short version of what happened:

Shelley made arrangements with the people at Tekhnosvit (literally, “Technology World”) to download some of the music and video we needed for the party. She came at a time when nobody would be needing the internet, so as not to get in anyone’s way. So, she gets on the computer and downloads about 100 megabytes worth of files. Sounds almost reasonable, right? No. Everyone still at the store was looking at her, aghast. “Do you know how much that is?!” they said, stunned. Shelley as much as said they looked at her like she had horns growing out of her head. She burned the downloaded items onto a CD, and paid 70 Hryvnyy (about $16.30 – admittedly, that’s a good chunk of change in this neck of the steppe) – she asked me if 100Mb was a lot, and I said that in my opinion it really wasn’t, although I remember when it was a super lot. And since she paid for it, what was the problem? (Aside from the fact that it was a frivolous, ultimately unnecessary expenditure.)

In my quasi-sobriety I posited, “You know, they just don’t have an appreciation for Western-style web surfing here…”

Shelley was quick to defend Ukraine, “No! No! We don’t appreciate how valuable the Internet is!” She had me there.

We then talked about the internet at Ostroh Academy, which hadn’t been working because the guy in charge of it was in Germany all week. Oh, wait, but Shelley had new information for me. He’s not an IT guy under the employ of Ostroh Academy or anything. No, he owns the connection and sells the internet to individual students, and the rector gets a cut. (This shocks us Canadians because in North America internet access is virtually always included in student fees, and barring that there are a plethora of ways to get free access to the internet if one is patient and willing to pound pavement – not to mention unofficial wi-fi “hot spots.”) So the internet at Ostroh Academy is essentially a profit-making venture rather than a service. I guess that’s fine, I just wish it wasn’t so sketchy. All the students I know tell me that when they have money to buy internet access, the man is nowhere to be found. And who does he answer to? Ukrtelecom? The mob? Both?

And now I also know why they were so against us sharing our internet passwords with our friends. A few of my friends had been running out of internet from time to time, so I figured there’d be no harm done if I just gave them my password, which I got for free* just because I’m a CWY participant. Later I found that my password (and those of a few other participants) wasn’t working, because the aforementioned guy saw that my password had been in use at more than one workstation at a time. After that we all started using other teammates’ passwords, and before long we all had to get new ones, which were reluctantly issued. Now that I know the true nature of the scheme, I have a new attitude – before I was cursing the WinGate client** and wondering why the heck it was even necessary. Maybe the academy had limited internet resources and had to ration the connection, I thought. No, not quite. So now I’m just cursing the client, and I know why it’s an unfortunate evil.

* - Well, free to me – I imagine it comes out of the team budget.

** - I want to find the people who wrote this infernal heap of stinking garbage and make them spend six months in Ostroh, Ukraine trying to connect to the internet exclusively through the WinGate “server.” I want them to grow edgy waiting for the man who has access to the server to come back from wherever he pissed off to and turn it back on again after it crashed for the third time that day. Oh, and you don’t speak Ukrainian, Russian, German, or Polish, so you can’t talk to him directly. Have fun!!

So Shelley has a question for me: How can we change things so that the students at Ostroh can access the internet for free, yet allow this guy to keep his job and business like before?

Good question. That’s just the problem we’re addressing with this whole party, isn’t it?

Fast-forward a few days, and we’re in the Foreign Relations department with our team laptops trying to gather up all the media we need for Canadian Night later in the evening. By some miracle I installed LimeWire on Lindsay’s laptop and we’re able to download everything we need from Sloan to Shania. I can’t say enough good things about LimeWire. It’s free, it doesn’t come with any system-polluting garbage, and it works well behind proxies and/or firewalls (which is the situation at Ostroh Academy that prevented us from using, say, BearShare). It’s a cinch to use, and it’s beautiful and snappy. So anyway, we’re getting everything we need, and now it’s essentially “free” because it’s just coming off my personal, bottomless internet account. (Let’s hear it for creative accounting!)

Do you remember Jhennia, our old Ukrainian teacher who went to Regina to supervise the NetCorps team? She came back that day. Shelley and I leaped out of our chairs and we shared tremendous hugs. It was so nice to see her again. She looked like she’d seen it all, but she was happy.

At last we had a decent collection of songs sorted by genre, and we presented a loaded disc to Sasha. Time to go set up! Lindsay and I, the only Canadians left at the Academy, walked to Karo together, stopping along the way for snacks.

The night itself, as I’ve said, was a lot of fun for me. We all took turns working the door. We played a lot of cool songs and held some fun games, such as a quasi-Jeopardy*, where in one question people were asked to name as many Canadian provinces and/or territories as they could. There was one really smart girl who’d been to Canada last year on the Rocky Mountain House**, AB exchange who was able to name, “Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Yukon, British Columbia, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland… Nunavut!”

“Ahem!” I coughed, grinning.

“Uh, uh… I said Nova Scotia!” Fair enough, she did at that. Later I told her that the province she forgot was smaller in population than her hometown, but I guess what I should have told her is that I was being a complete ass. I didn’t seriously expect anyone to come up with it, (Czarek: “It’s a province?!”) and I shouldn’t have teased her about it. I just made a smart girl feel stupid. The next time she looks at a map (such as the one I lent her for a presentation), she’ll probably just feel a twinge of resentment. Way to go, Will.

* - We really just mean “Jeopardy” in the sense that it’s a television trivia game show with a Canadian host (of Ukrainian descent, no less!). People, myself included, throw around the concept of Jeopardy! like it covers every test of knowledge under the sun even though we should really confine the use to a type of game where the contestants are to come up with questions, not answers.

** - As the singular implies, it’s not a very large place…

So the night carried on, and eventually they switched over to the head-banging punk rock that the Karo crowd likes, so the only Canadian aspect left was Amy’s Jell-O shooters, which were quite a hit. Amy sold all 160 (40 more didn’t make it to the counter if you gather me, but they were paid for – no freebies, even for the team! =). Some people were afraid of trying them, but those same people later professed that they quite enjoyed them. “Delicious!” was the consensus. We also had a brief talent show which was won by some acoustic beatboxers.

When all was said and done, we didn’t make much money with Canadian Night. (And then we heard that last time there was a Canadian Night there were huge fights, which made a few people hesitant to come this time – although studies and homework were the main things that kept people away in my estimation.) We did much better that time we went around the dorms collecting for the orphanage, and that’s just concerning money. However, we now know what to do and what not to do (charge 2 Hryvnyy (47¢) for the shooters, not 1 (23¢); don’t give away so much money on the talent / quiz games (50гри./$12); don’t spend so much money downloading (yuck, let’s not even think about that)), and we’ll be sharing our experiences with the NetCorps team and any future groups that come here, most likely in writing.

I detailed all the domestic anxiety that went along with this night in a previous post, but I’ve neglected to mention the romantic. I was privileged to get to know one girl better in particular, and things were going fairly well until she suddenly lost interest in me. Earlier she had been coming to sit with me numerous times, and we were having some pretty good conversations. She was a mental disaster area (she had obvious self-esteem and image issues, which she really didn’t warrant in my opinion), but I still wanted her. She was really cute and had a normal, feminine figure, and beautiful hair. She knew how to dress, and wore a tantalizing skirt. She had a precious smile, too.

As I confided in Lee that the situation was arcane, Lee told me, “You have to let them know you’re interested. Not that you need them, but just that you’re interested. Just say something to them, then talk to her friend. Wait until she gets impatient, then speak to her again.” Interesting tactic.

I told Lee that when she was going on about how she doesn’t eat for days on end and how she didn’t like to look at herself in the mirror, etc.. I said to her, “Well, I could tell you how beautiful I think you are, but if you’re not going to believe me, than I won’t.” I was trying to let her know two things at once: 1) I thought she was gorgeous. 2) I wasn’t interested in playing a “give me a compliment that I can reject” game.

Lee agreed that it might have been a good idea to back out of the false humility game (a game which I admit I used to relish greatly because it was an easy way to fish for compliments that I thought I deserved), but, “‘Beautiful’ is too strong a word. That’s saying you like her. You need to say something like, ‘You’re hot.’”

So what should I have said? I’m thinking probably just, “Well, I think you’re hot,” nonchalantly, then I should have turned into another conversation for a few minutes. This doesn’t address the number 2 issue, but it’s not my prerogative to do anything concerning her self-esteem – that’s her problem, and it was insufferably arrogant of me to assume it could be mine.

So, people out there in CyberLand: what would you have done in my situation? You’re sitting next to a gorgeous girl whom you’re interested in, who seems to be interested in you, and she’s talking about her poor self-image. What do you do?

It just occurred to me that maybe that was a hint I should have said something to her before; I don’t know. The girls here truly mystify me. I was on the phone with Mom and Paul yesterday (my first phone call to Canada!) and Paul asked me what the girls were like over here, and I basically said that I just didn’t understand them. I mean, I have trouble understanding girls back home, but the ones here might as well be from another star system and speaking Vork. They’re hot, unbelievably hot sometimes, but they’re crazy! Bat shit crazy!

I mean, I don’t know what they want from me, really. I’ve been spending the last few months trying to be everybody’s friend, being genuinely interested in them and what they do, I smile all the time – and basically I’m just a friend for everyone. In North America, nice guys* actually have a hope in hell of hooking up with girls. (Even me! I was this close a couple of times between these stupid exchange programs!) I can’t say the same thing about Ukraine. I don’t know what they expect of me, but my so-called gentility makes me unwilling to give it. The ones that don’t require me to be an ass are probably too shy to even talk to me, so I never notice them (but now that I think about it, I’ll look more carefully). And I’m not going to make a pass at someone unless it’s the right thing to do. Which it really never is, the right time never comes. Argh, get me out of here.

* - Well, I’m not really all that nice, in fact I’m becoming increasingly arrogant the longer I stay here. I’m also a snob. I’m a “nice guy” in the sense that I aspire to be nice to people; often I don’t quite get there. If I really was a nice guy, I wouldn’t be calling Ukrainian girls bat shit crazy even though they dress and walk like hookers and don’t seem to regard “boyfriend” as anything but a word. I’d be much more forgiving.

So anyway, as far as that girl goes, not much happened. I asked her to dance, and she said “sure, next song,” and then it turned out to be a song she didn’t like. The next night I saw her she said hello to me with greatest warmth and cheer, and then proceeded to pay attention to every other guy but myself. She even avoided making eye contact with me. So it’s Over with her. Did it even begin? I guess it never does.

And I suppose some sociologist could plumb out the reasons why Ukrainian girls differ so markedly from Western girls, and I could conscientiously adopt an open mind and realize that I’d be the same way if I was a Ukrainian girl, growing up in these alien (to me) socio-economic conditions. Yes. I really do think that will help. Excuse the rant; I just really needed to get that venom out of my system.

After the night was over and we counted our money and folded up the flags, we headed over to Trek for some “debriefing.” We all had a great long chat about relationships and dating, although I tried to spend as much time as possible at the pool table we were obliged to buy time on so as to avoid the liquid bleach those strange guys at our table were passing off as “vodka.” Oh, you know, these people never really ask if they can come sit with you, they just come. And you don’t have a choice about drinking; if you’re sitting there, you’re going to be drinking! But playing pool seems to be a good way to get out of it.

My teammates, smoking addicts that they are, at first were afraid their night was ruined because they only had six cigarettes left between them. As one of them said, they’d smoke that many during their coffee and cognac. The hour being late, and they being desperate, they sent our waiter to 1) call for a cab 2) ride to the 24-hour gas station a mile out of town and 3) get two regular smokes and a box of expensive cigarettes. Total cost: $5. We’re going to miss being rich.

Fast-forward to now, and I’ve spent the day home nursing my mild, persistent cough. I’m reading Jane Eyre - I see what happens to people who neglect colds! There was a beautiful sunset this evening, and so I bundled up as fast as I could and ran outside and took a ton of pictures, never mind that people were staring at me.

Just before I left for this, my host father told me through my host brother that someone in the neighbourhood was saying that I got into a fight with a bunch of children, and that neighbour had to help me. Huh? At first I was overcome with guilt and fear, thinking that someone may have seen me talking to the children the night I was going to leave and disapproved. Was I not supposed to be talking to those kids? What could I possibly have said or done to offend? No, I told Romans Jr. and Sr. that I wasn’t able to confirm that story. Nothing like that ever happened (except if you count the time months ago when the kids were after my cell phone, but I just ran away laughing, and no one else was involved).

I guess I just don’t understand Ukraine, and Ukraine doesn’t understand me either. But you know, I have a lot of blessings. I have the freedom to go where I want and do what I want. I have friends here there and everywhere, and they really help make this worthwhile. I have access to the internet sometimes, and access to computers in general even more. I haven’t gotten so much writing done in years – sure, it’s almost all non-fiction, but it’s still good practice. It’s also good for the tech retailers who sell optical mice since your scroll wheel will be giving out any day now because of my necessarily lengthy entries.

(Oh dear. I just watched a sardine commercial... with close-ups. “Smachnyy!” says the Ukrainian Narrator Voice. “Is that even food?!” says I, flinching from the screen.)
Tags: best of ukraine, culture, cwy, dating, discos, ostroh, travel, ukraine

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