Monday morning the boys were excited when the phone rang half way through breakfast. But their teacher was not calling to cancel classes, merely to double check on the temperature reading.
Tuesday morning it was colder and the boys rejoiced. Their teachers declared it a “cold day” so there was no studying that day.
How cold is a cold day? Officially, it is about -35 degrees Celcius (-31 degrees Farenheit). That’s cold enough to frost bite your nose on the walk to the building where we rent rooms for the boys to meet in with their teachers. It’s cold enough that Ryan pauses when he steps out of our stairwell “to adjust to the cold.” It’s cold enough that swim classes at the local school pool were canceled.
Russian schools close for the cold, too. At -35 the younger grades (1 through 4) stay home. For each additional degree of cold, another grade or two gets added to the “closed” list until all stay home at -40. Usually, this cold weather arrives in January. Out in the villages it arrived this year at the end of November. This week a friend in a village told me that her children had nearly two weeks off of school before the decision was made to just go to school anyway so that the entire year wouldn’t be spent staying home out of the cold.
The big question for us this week was what to do with our two days “off.” In order to be ready for class on time, the boys have to already be eating breakfast at the time when lessons might be canceled. Thus, they suddenly have a free day but it is still hours before sunrise and the temperature will continue to drop till mid-morning.
Here are some of the ways we spent the time:
We also went on a few shopping expeditions. However, once you bundle up to stand at a bus stop in that cold, being inside the store is uncomfortably warm. We went to the brand new “Capital Mall.” The entry hall looked and felt like a mall in any big first world city. We were impressed. Then we wandered in past several glass fronted shops–there was clothing, cell phones, photo shop, cell phones, electronics and cell phones! The escalator was a hit, as was the open second floor circle where you could look down below. Finally, we took in the huge new “SPAR” store. It had a little of everything. The funny part was that many of the items on the shelves were covered with notes that said “This item not yet for sale. It has no price.” We found an amazing bulk food section and measured out some imported dried cranberries for a treat. But the clerk could not find the price for them, so we couldn’t buy them. Next we tired some nuts. Again, she couldn’t find the price. Then she simply walked away. We decided it was time to do the same.
As we left the mall, the boys and I remarked on the huge expanse of parking lot. It probably isn’t much bigger than the parking lot at your local pharmacy in the US, but for Ulan-Ude it was huge. If we had brought the camera with us, that would have been the photo of the day–especially since it had actually been somewhat cleaned of snow and had real snow banks along the far edge!
Our second day off for cold was Wednesday. Darin had the big adventure–he went with Alan to do archery with the youth in the village an hour away. His biggest impression? The room where they shot was COLD and the bus ride (one hour) back to the city was freezing!
****** As I write this on Thursday, our life is back in rhythm–until tomorrow when the holiday break begins. ********