Friday, February 4, 2011

Ukraine Packing List Recommendations and Cooking Chinese Jiaozi (Dumplings) for Chinese New Year!

I've had a few questions about what to pack for Ukraine from a member of Group 41 so I figured I would post my answers  up here... these are good questions that remind me a lot of my own questions about packing for Ukraine! I've also updated my Packing List page so feel free to take a look at that :)

1. Did you end up buying a hair dryer or straightener in Ukraine? What about bringing a CHI hair straightener from home?

I actually didn't end up buying a hair dryer or straightener here.. but you have to realize that I almost NEVER blew my hair dry at home and only straightened my hair before going out, so letting it air dry and not doing anything to it is normal for me. Many of my friends here (who are girls who blow dry their hair on a daily basis) bought hair dryers their first week here and then straighteners soon afterwards. You can expect to spend between $50-100 UAH on a hair dryer (they call it a "fan" in russian/ukrainian) and about $100-200 on a hair straightener. Hair dryers can be found everywhere from the bazaar to the magazines (thats what they call all the little stores/shops).

Hair straighteners are a little bit harder to find but any store that has home appliances like electric tea kettles, microwaves, etc usually has them. I've also seen them in the bazaars and in the stands on the streets, sometimes they are called hair crimpers (but you should just ask if you can see it, it is most likely a straightener). Three of the other girls in my cluster bought hair straighteners and they used them all the time. I wouldn't bring the Chi if I was you, you aren't going to be able to use it here and you probably don't want to risk frying it. I brought my straightener to Singapore/China last summer (which is also on 220V electricity, like Ukraine) and shorted out the power in my dorm room the first time that I tried to use it haha.

2. What type of luggage did you end up taking with you?  I have been planning on buying a hiking style backpack because I doubt I could carry two rolling suitcases. 

I picked a roller duffel because the bag itself is lighter than a regular suitcase (since a duffel doesn't have a hard frame) and still holds as much as a regular suitcase. My personal preference is to roll a bag that weighs almost 50 lbs rather than carry it on my back, but it is up to you if you want to bring the hiking backback. The flip side to this is that evenly paved streets and sidewalks don't really exist in Ukraine, so you will most likely be rolling your luggage over potholes and on gravel/dirt paths. I didn't own a hiking backpack at home, so I didn't want to buy one just for Ukraine. Unless you plan on going backpacking or hiking, I would get a roller duffel bag or a luggage with wheels (carrying duffel bags without wheels will be really heavy).
The luggage that I brought to Ukraine: a suitcase, roller duffel bag, and backpack.
As for dragging your luggage by yourself, I wouldn't worry about it too much because the one and only time that I had to carry all my stuff by myself was at Staging in DC when we went to the airport as a giant group on a charter bus. You can always let the 2nd heavy bag sit there and come back and get it during a 2nd trip because there will be Peace Corps people around to watch your bag. When you land in Ukraine, they have little shopping carts for free at the baggage claim in the airport, and that is how you will carry your bags to the charter bus to go to your first Staging retreat in Ukraine. When you move to your host family's place and to your permanent site, you will have people to help you (like your host dad, your counterpart, etc). Many host families have cars and Peace Corps will give you a stipend to take a taxi to your host family's place and to your permanent site as well. Peace Corps actually hired an army of 20 guys to work as porters at the train station in Kyiv when we left from Swearing-In to go to our permanent sites and it was awesome, all I had to carry to the train was my purse!
Group 40 B (the half that left a week after Group 40 A) with our luggage at the airport in DC.Most people have 2 luggages and a backpack, some carried on a duffel (or instruments like a violin, saxaphone, guitar, and banjo!).

3. And what about for your carry ons? What did you take with you to Staging and on the plane from Washington DC to Ukraine?

 On the way to Ukraine, I carried on my backpack and a large purse that had a lot of heavy books like my Russian dictionary because I knew they wouldn't weigh my purse. Some people got away with carrying on 3 items like a purse, backpack and small duffel or carryon size suitcase in DC at Staging... but when we got to Germany, their 3rd piece of luggage got checked at the gate (and when airlines check luggage at the gate, its usually for free). Also, I persuaded the gate agent in my home airport not to charge me extra for the 2nd checked bag by chatting them up about Peace Corps and Ukraine, and he was really nice and didn't even weigh my bags. Other people weren't so lucky and had to shell out $50 for the 2nd bag and they didn't get reimbursed until 3 months later. However, $50 USD = $400 UAH which will be like half of your monthly living allowance during PST, so it seems like a lot of money here :)

4. I see you wrote that you would have gotten a knee-length winter jacket now...why is that?  Just for warmth?  Or is that what everyone wears? 

I bought the North Face Brooklyn down jacket and I love it! I would have bought a knee-length jacket because of both reasons... the 8 inches of my legs between the bottom of the jacket and the top of my knee-high boots get cold! Most women here have fur jackets that go down below their knees and most girls have the puffy down jackets that look very similar to mine, but about knee length. So my jacket actually fits in really well, it even has a fur-lined hood that is awesome when it is snowing and windy outside.
Okay, maybe there is more than 8 inches between the bottom of my jacket and the top of my boots. But my knees really do get cold during snowstorms and when its windy outside haha.

Also, Peace Corps Trainees will get a bunch of books from Peace Corps at the Staging retreat once they arrive in Ukraine.. just FYI. It is about 10-15 lbs of language learning books plus a bulky black medical kit (see picture below). And then once you leave Kyiv from Swearing-In, you will get a huge babushka bag (the woven plastic bags) full of a space heater, fire extinguisher, smoke detector, etc for your permanent site.
All my PC language books, minus the 5 that I took to school to study between classes. Also pictured is my space heater (still new-in-box), fire extinguisher, and medical kit.
Chinese New Year was yesterday, February 3rd. I had my 3-7th graders make paper lanterns during English club (and some kids were so excited that they came to my classroom in-between classes to make them!). The lanterns are really easy to make, I actually just read the instructions off of  this website and then just taught my kids how to make the lanterns!
The lanterns hanging from the ceiling of my English club classroom on Wednesday... I actually have more lanterns now because like 10 more kids made lanterns today in-between classes!
We talked about some of the traditions and foods from Chinese New Year, like doing the dragon dance in the streets to scare away evil spirits and how adults give children and teenagers gifts of money in red envelopes. My students thought it was interesting how 8 is a lucky number in the Chinese culture and 4 is unlucky, for they told me that the lucky numbers in Ukraine are 3, 4, 7, 12 and 40. Just like in America, the number 13 is considered unlucky here. Afterwards, I taught them how to make the hand symbols for the numbers 1 through 10 in Chinese street-market style. These hand symbols are widely used for bargaining with street vendors and useful if you don't know how to say the numbers in Chinese (while traveling in China).
You can also use these hand gestures in places that have large Chinese speaking populations such as Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
 Today, I invited my sitemate Sam and all of the English teachers in my school over for dinner, along with my school Counterpart and Sam's Counterpart. Sam and I made jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) from scratch, and pork fried rice. We fried half of the dumplings and boiled the other half of the dumplings. The dumpling skins turned out to be a little to thin and many of them broke during the cooking process, but they were still tasty!
I love making jiaozi!

I taught Sam how to make dumplings too :)

Our dumplings turned out pretty well... or so we thought.

Noms.. they tasted delicious!
My English teachers at school thought the dumplings were very interesting.. they are like a cross between the Ukrainian traitional dishes of pilmeny (dumplings with meat, boiled in water) and vareneky (breadier dumplings with potato, cabbage, or plum that are usually steamed). They each brought a dish to share, so our dinner turned into a potluck feast!
From left to right: Larisa, Lilia, Svetlana, Alina (my counterpart), myself, and Sam's counterpart.
I am super excited about kicking off English week next week, watch for some pictures of the projects done by my students that will be posted in the hallways of my school!


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