I have just spent two hours listening to a man spouting some of the most hateful bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life, without being permitted to say anything or give an opinion in return.  He was good-looking and I’m an idiot, which is how I ended up sitting down.  Forgive me.

This man is from South Ossetia (ie the breakaway region of Georgia), pro-Putin, an avid hater of gays, convinced that Jews are running the world and playing politics as if it’s a game of chess, and fairly distinctly anti-Arab Muslim.  I don’t even know where to start.  I’m actually overwhelmed.  ‘Flabbergasted’ would be the appropriate word, if it wasn’t so ridiculous-sounding.  It probably goes without saying, but none of the below reflects my opinions in any way.

I guess I’d better start with gays.  He told me all about how:

  • Being gay is a choice.
  • Nobody in Russia gives a fuck because it’s sick and barbaric, and these people are monkeys who ‘care more about someone fucking their asshole’ than about their parents, heritage, brains or future.
  • Girls can choose either way at any time, but when a guy chooses to become gay, there’s no going back. He’s doomed.
  • A lot of guys in Russia choose to be gay to make good money. Because you see, if someone is good-looking but has no brain, their best option is to become a prostitute.  And these stupid, good-looking young men want money, so rather than do the ‘right’ thing, fulfil their ‘main role’ in life, they instead choose to fuck fat old guys in exchange for cash.  Because iPhones and travel.
  • Nobody in Russia would want their child to be gay. Gay isn’t normal, and the ‘gay movement’ is ruining Europe and the West and causing massive demographic problems.  That’s right, low Western birth-rates aren’t due to high levels of education or the availability of family planning, but to people choosing to be gay.

On women:

  • Russia’s main export is women, because they are top quality. The stupid ones become prostitutes, and the other ones wives all over the world.  This is because, despite the drinking and drugs in Russia, they just have good genes.

On life and love:

  • People’s main jobs are not to kill anyone, and to have a family. A guy is supposed to meet a girl, be in love for a year and long enough to have a kid, then can move on or whatever.  Love never lasts longer than 2-3 years, because that’s all that’s necessary to have a child.  Then if the parents stay together, the feeling mutates into something else.
  • Incidentally, I told him that I’m not having kids and I’m pretty sure that makes me a deficient monster in his eyes.

Children and heritage:

  • We don’t own ourselves, we are owned by our forefathers. Because, you see, they expended the effort in having sex and then protecting their lands, so that we could be here.  So that I could be here and ‘not look Chinese’.  They gave us genetic material and their knowledge so that we could be here, so we are theirs—and as such, being gay or not having children are not choices that are permitted to us.  It is our job.
  • Incidentally, apparently all of our forefathers were laughing at the ridiculousness of gay people, they were a joke. Because that’s historically documented (this was the point at which I just couldn’t take any more, and yet again he wouldn’t let me speak, so I left.  We will be having no further conversation, one-sided or otherwise).

On politics in general:

  • The US starts a lot of conflicts throughout the world, and ‘Cold War #2’ was caused by the Russian refusal to be dependent on the Federal Reserve.
  • Europe is the US’ bitch. So is everywhere else, for that matter.
  • Putin is awesome, 95% of the country agrees, and everybody else is a self-serving criminal.

On Jews and Muslims:

  • Jews are way smarter than everybody else, and it’s them in the top positions in Russia and the US and the world in general. Thus it’s them in charge of the world, it’s all one group of people having petty spats which appear to be political conflicts.  Instead it’s all a game of chess played from within the same ‘family’.
  • The Quran asks that people have as many children as they can, and Allah will protect said children. Meanwhile Jews only have as many children as they can afford.  So while Muslim children are raised at home by ‘monkey’ uneducated women, Jewish children are ‘high quality people’.  Europe should be concerned about all of these Muslim killers immigrating as they escape from US-started wars in the Middle East.
  • Muslim (?) men like to fuck sheep in the street in the name of their religion.  (Yes, that’s an actual example he gave.)

Interestingly, at one point he said that ‘you Europeans’ think we have some kind of moral or inherent superiority, but that’s not the case.  Later on he said that those who were going to be barbarians like gays or what-have-you aren’t good enough to be in Russia, and can try their luck elsewhere.

I can’t believe I made it to 5 weeks back in this country before hearing this shit again.  I guess it’s because I avoided speaking to Russian men.  I feel sick.


The probable incidence of larceny

I’ve just arrived back in Istanbul, in advance of the conference tomorrow.  And oh my goodness has it been an adventure!

My flight from Iraklio, Crete, was at 02:40 this morning.  I barely made it to the airport actually: in the process of hailing the last bus to the airport, I forgot how to walk, and ended up throwing myself down on the ground instead.  Painfully, with a lot of swearing, and out of sight of the bus.  I was frantic that I’d miss the thing, so jumped up and launched myself Quasimodo-style toward the bus.  Meanwhile, a guy who’d seen me eat pavement looked like he wanted to call an ambulance for me, so I made a speedy exit.  Well, as speedily as someone who’s walking like a particularly damaged zombie can exit, anyway.

I made it to the airport, and upon arriving overhead a conversation between a couple nearby.  They’d missed their flight, because they didn’t realise that after midnight, it’s a new day.  Thus they’d turned up a day late, thinking that 01:40 in the morning was clearly still part of Wednesday night, and 01:40 on Wednesday morning is part of Tuesday night.  Some real winners for the gene pool, there.

After waiting a few hours (during which I practised Spanish with myself and didn’t look even moderately crazy), I checked in my bags and went to passport control.  Where I thought it would be a great idea to ask whether my passport was flagged after I’d overstayed my Russian visa.  Because ‘I overstayed my visa’ is precisely what immigration officials want to hear!

It took me no less than five buckets to pass all of my stuff through the scanner, then I mooched into the lounge, looking forward to an hour’s nap.  And that absolutely would have happened, were there not a group of four Russians choreographing a dance to Beat It! by Michael Jackson.  I’m talking blaring repetition of the song, the four standing in formation and pulling out some very very cheesy moves.  I have no idea why 2am was a good time to do this.  Russians are always very considerate of those around them!  (Sarcasm?  Nooooo).

I had a little nap on the short flight, got to Istanbul, and walked to the metro entrance.  But it was still only 04:15, and the metro wasn’t actually open yet.  So I made a remarkably comfy bed from my suitcase and bag, and slept for an hour or so on the floor outside the station: I’m taking this ‘homeless traveller’ thing a little too seriously, I think!

Twenty minutes on the train, an hour on the tram (where a recorded voice-over warned of the inevitable larceny that takes place at all tram stops), and finally to the bus stop.  I needed to catch a bus to Taksim Square (where the riots are), in order to walk from there.  Then I couldn’t figure out how to buy a bus ticket, and the driver was not a very happy nor helpful man, so I walked to the taxi rank instead.  I asked how much it would cost to my hostel (I gave the guy the name, and showed him a map of the area around it), and he said 10 lira (~AU$5).  Great!  So I jumped on in.

We then spent the next loooooooooooong time (I’d say nearly an hour, but I’m pretty sleep deprived) driving around looking for the place.  We drove past Taksim, which is really quite a mess: holes in the road, trash everywhere, and hastily-erected home-made road-blocks.  Plus riot police vans.  The protesters themselves seemed very chilled however.

Anyway, every block or so, the driver would pull over and ask a taxi driver for directions.  Meanwhile, he was starting to insult and yell at me in Turkish—it’s not really my problem if he doesn’t know where he’s going despite directions and a map, though!

Finally, finally, we made it to the hostel.  I gave him the 10 lira and he said “no,” and now demanded 25 for his trouble.  Note: ‘his’ trouble.  I said no, I wasn’t going to pay that.  He then got absolutely furious and started waving his arms around and yelling in Turkish.  Unsurprisingly, I stuck to my guns and said that no, I would pay what we agreed.  (You can tell how much of a budget I’m on… also, after Russia, I’m not exactly going to take that nonsense!)  He then moved the car into a driveway and stopped the engine.  I’d unfortunately broken my own rule—always put baggage in the car, not in the boot, so I can grab and run if there’s any issues.  As it was, after a minute or so of us both just sitting there, I got my kindle out and started to read my book.  I’m quite difficult to extort.

After maybe five minutes, the taxi driver started the car again, and started driving aimlessly around the city: I don’t really know what he was trying to achieve!  He was ranting and raving and driving in circles (thank goodness for my insane memory—I’d already memorised the streets around the hostel on our first go around, so I knew I could find my way back if he dropped me somewhere random).  After maybe another ten minutes, I told him that I now considered myself kidnapped, and was calling the police.  And I did.  While I was on hold waiting for an English or Russian speaker, I asked him for his registration number, as it wasn’t displayed inside the cab.

Needless to say, when I then offered to pay him 15, he meekly accepted and drove me back to the hostel, and I disconnected the call with the police.

What has Russia done to me?!?!  (Also: never, ever, mess with a tired Laura).

Opinion Piece

When I was at dinner with Lana the other night, she said I would make a terrible journalist.  I agreed, because I just can’t take being told what to do.  She said that was true, but moreover, I’m incapable of writing without bias.  I completely disagreed, but have nonetheless decided to take a leaf out of what is apparently my book, and write a highly opinionated post about Russia.  Or is that two posts?  I’ve put hating-Russia on the left, and loving-Russia on the right: I’ve been so perpetually in two minds about the place, that it only seems fair to write two opposing pieces.

The blog will continue, though from here on in, ‘Russia’ posts can be found under the ‘Russia’ category tab, while the front page will now be posts from what I’m calling ‘the long way around’ (who goes to Australia via Europe and Latin America?!).  

And now.  Enjoy!  My last post about Russia, written from within Russia.  (Hopefully not forever?):

Haters gonna..

I’m writing the ‘hating’ post first, mainly because I’m mid-cleaning, and I’m going to take out the resulting rage on some grout!

I started writing these posts by doing dot points of the things that I love, and the things that I hate.  The first thing that came up on my list for ‘hatred’ was the spitting.  And, for that matter, public excretion in general.  As men walk down the street, they spit everywhere: and not just those of lower socio-economic status.  You’ll see men in business suits having a good old time of it.  Why?!  It’s so disgusting!  Of course, there’s also public urination: Karie had a man on the metro whip it out and go for it in the train, April saw another guy—positively refined by comparison—open the metro door between stations and pee on the tracks.  I came home a couple of nights ago and someone had actually pissed on my front door.  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!?  Hoos once came home and found that someone had shit on his door-step.  The streets smell permanently of bodily fluids, and I hate wearing shoes other than boots, because I shudder to think of what—or who—I’m actually getting on my feet.  Disgusting!

On the topic of streets, I won’t miss the drunkards stumbling over the pavement or being obnoxious in parks, or the sheer number of men walking down the street with beer-bottle in hand.  I’ve seen on multiple occasions men leaving the supermarket with their wife with child in one hand, beer in the other, and cracking it open to take a swig the moment they’ve left the store.  I mean, I’ve been fined for drinking in public before ($120 in Tasmania, what!!), but there’s something a little different between having a drink with your friend in a semi-private enclosed space at night-time before heading out, and treating alcohol as an essential accessory.  They’re like male Paris Hiltons, but switching the chihuahua for beer.

Still on streets, the thing I hated most about winter wasn’t its length (though it was definitely too long), the temperature, the darkness or snow: it was the ice.  St Petersburg doesn’t really have drains as such, and everything would be covered with this ice which was down-right terrifying to walk on.  The hour or so I spent walking to and from metros every day was something I dreaded: on weekends I refused to leave the house, because I just couldn’t face it.  There has to be a better way of dealing with the problem than leaving it (or making it worse by sweeping the streets).

Next has to be work.  I think I’ve been fairly and consistently clear in my hatred for the company I worked for: I said to their faces that working for them was the worst mistake I’ve ever made.  If I could do it all again and not work for EF, then I would in a heart-beat: I feel like my time in Russia would be 1000% improved.  My usual bench-mark is if I don’t like something and Russians don’t like it, then it’s just not okay: and Russians flee the company too.
Part of that is the management philosophy in Russia in general: something Nastya’s had a solid rant or two about herself.  The philosophy tends to be that people are at work to be used: they gave up any right to respect when they signed the employment contract.  There’s no such thing as policy, as procedure.  In fact, that’s probably a given: most things here are riddled with corruption and constant attempts to clamber over those around you, and workplaces are no exception.
That clambering, of course, is not found merely in the workplace.  Russia has made me less trusting and more suspicious.  On that rare occasion that someone is actually nice, I immediately want to know what they want from me.  I’ve not noticed kindness for kindness’ sake: it’s manipulation.  That’s it.  Exceptions have been few (VERY few) and far between.  There’s no customer service, people don’t help each other if they can avoid it, and I am so sick of being fucked around and lied to.  Sometimes people hide behind bureaucracy—just fill in these triplicate forms, take them to the other side of town, bring them back, go to another place to get some stamps, take money to this bank and to this one—but really, everyone would be better off if people just acted like reasonable human beings.

Of course, bureaucracy and paperwork isn’t the only impracticality.  As Jess mentioned in a vlog, 5000 rubles notes are ridiculous: they’re dispensed at ATMs, and nobody accepts them.  On the other end of the scale, there are 1-kopeck coins (1/500,000 the value of the 5000 ruble note), which you can use for exactly nothing.  They cost around 70 kopecks to produce, and you need around 3600 of them to buy one loaf of bread.  Hyper-inflation set in in Russia over ten years ago: you’d think that would be enough time to eliminate the most worthless of coins.  Kopecks in general are a joke.

Then there’s having to confirm and reconfirm things.  Don’t bother sending emails, nobody will get back to you.  Don’t bother booking online, as Russians don’t do it (too high a risk of fraud), so you won’t be completely believed if you say you bought a ticket.  And yet I still try haha: it actually works fairly well for intercity trains.  I’ve confirmed my bus to Finland tonight twice already and have been told to confirm it again today.  Nastya rang the hostel she’ll be staying at tomorrow for a month, only to find out that management has changed in the few weeks since she’s made the booking, and therefore she has no booking.

Need to go shopping?  Need to pick up some rice, eggs, milk and maybe some biscuits?  Go to at least three different stores!  I’ve largely memorised which products are available at which stores, and so a weekly shop will take me to 5-6 different supermarkets.  Of course, it doesn’t help that stocks are completely random, and change in the smaller stores from week to week.  Food is, of course, Russian staples, with little international cuisine.  Feel like you’ll die without a fix of, say, some Mexican?  Or even some pizza?  Well, I hope you like it with DILL.  Dill is the national flavour, and it is is gross.  On the rare occasions I eat out, I specifically ask for no dill—to which I invariably get a puzzled expression.  ‘Why would this crazy Australian girl not want dill?  It’s delicious!’  YUCK.

Food in general is bad in Russia though.  It’s not just the flavours (though they’re not a happy time, either)—it’s the quality.  I remember when we first arrived, Karie raved about how much she loved the food (and I looked at her dubiously).  When I saw her to say goodbye a few weeks ago, she said that she’d finally noticed how bad the food is.  The quality of fruit and vegetables for example is very poor: even if you buy frozen goods, sometimes they’re mouldy, or have been improperly stored and therefore frozen and defrosted multiple times.  They are, not, good.

At this point I got a phone call from my Russian bank—connected with both the FSB and apparently also used by the mafia for money laundering—saying that I need a new bank-card.  Despite the fact that yesterday I was told specifically that I absolutely did not need one.  Who needs access to their money, right?!

Next has to be the armour.  I’m not talking about role-playing here, but rather about the emotional armour you have to put on every day to survive here.  I’ve talked about it at quite some length previously (here here here).  Here is chaos.  Nothing makes any sense, people aren’t nice, and anything could happen at any moment.  It’s actually incredibly stressful.  Armour is requisite, and it is heavy.  It involves being pessimistic, having no hope, and being prepared to accept everything that will be heaped upon you.  One of my students once emailed me that Russia is too ‘dark and cloudy’ for someone like me, and that I should escape while I could.  I would feel robbed of my life were this armour permanent.

Then we have the -isms.  (Not ‘-asms’, which I am significantly more partial to!).  I’ve spoken about sexism before at quite some length (eg here): I hate being treated as a second-class citizen because I’m a woman.  It just doesn’t make any sense to me!  I can’t comprehend how anybody could see me as anything other than a person like any other.  Of course, it’s not just women who are an underclass in Russia: it’s people from other places, specifically the Caucasus and Central Asia.  Russians are super racist as a general rule.  (I’ve talked about it a bit here.)  I don’t feel like I suffer from much racism myself—but then again, I’m a young white woman.  Actually, I’ve noticed some positive racism toward Westerners in some ways: people tend to trust us more, because we’re not Russian.  It’s expected that we’ll do what we say we will, and that we can be trusted more.  Weird.  Especially given that a lot of people who come to Russia from the West are down-right creepy.

I can’t not mention the men.  It’s not just that they’re not groomed or dressed like Western men.  Actually, everything about them is different.  As I’ve said time and time again, there are massive cultural differences in every respect.  I hate that talking to a man seemingly gives them the right to my body: it doesn’t.  Saying hello doesn’t mean that you can grope me.  Also, a lot of men sit on the metro and glare at me, and I have genuinely no idea why.  I posted on my facebook once that sometimes, I’m not sure if Russian guys are hitting on me or are angry with me: and that still stands.  How are short, glaring men attractive?  I’m probably not going to say hi.

Lastly (though I’m sure the longer I leave it, the more things I’ll think of) is the apathy.  I can’t fix Russia: I can understand it, and I can understand the reasons for the way life is here, but I have absolutely no power to help or to change it.  But Russians could.  But they don’t.  Instead, they will mention the political/cultural/social/ecological/economic problems and just shrug and say “well, it’s Russia”.  As if Russia deserves to be robbed by its government, to have substandard education, to have widening social and financial inequalities, to be treated as a joke by the rest of the world.  Things here are ludicrously bad.  I understand what the country’s been through and I recognise that things are changing, but it’s just a broken, broken, place.  And the people who live here don’t try to make things better—sometimes I can’t tell whether it’s powerlessness or just the all-abiding apathy—they just shrug.  And join the fight to clamber over everybody else in their wish to get rich or to escape.  It doesn’t have to be like this, and I wish that I could show everybody here what life could be like.  If only.

<3 Love <3

I like to be positive, and so I kind of hope that people read this part of the post, rather than the ‘hating’ part.  Or at least read this second 🙂  But, as I said, I’ve been very divided about Russia the whole time I’ve been here, so it seems only fair to write two parts to this post.

The thing I love most about Russia is, of course, the people I care about: my friends, students, and my adorable landlords (really—I want miniature versions of them to put in my pocket!).  Russians aren’t quite like anybody else, it’s true: they’re un-ironic, emotionally available and affectionate, and I do love that about them.  The people I know are, of course, now expected to come and visit me in a country sometime 🙂
The people I particularly appreciate are those such as Nastichka (Siberia) and Lizard, who don’t speak English, but have been good friends to me despite my incredibly retarded Russian.  Lizard laughs at everything I say, but in a way that’s non-offensive, and Nastichka knows me well enough that she’ll field questions directed at me and answer them for me, if I need it.  Nastya (both Nastyas, actually) are coming over this afternoon to say bye, and it’s going to be bad.  Saying bye to Liza on Wednesday is the only time I’ve come close to crying so far, it was awful.
There are few people who I trust in Russia, but the two Nastyas and Lana are of course included, and I don’t know what I would have done without them.  And, as I’ve said before, but for my amazing students, I would have left months ago.

The thing I’ll miss second-most is the Russian language.  Of course.  I love it.  How I feel about it doesn’t make much sense, but since when did passion have to be logical?  I dream half in English and half in Russian, and find it bizarre—like they’re somehow lacking—if people don’t speak any Russian—like part of their soul just isn’t there.  (Oh god, I really have become Russian).  I will continue to study the language, independently like before: I’ve looked into courses in Sydney, and there aren’t any of a high enough level.  Russian just isn’t a priority language in Australia.
The other thing associated with the language that I’ll miss is the sense of victory every time I accomplish something.  At first, when I arrived, it was being able to order a coffee, or try to book a taxi.  Last week it was my Russian exam, and yesterday I managed to sort out a whole bunch of account- and transfer-related things at the bank all in Russian.  It feels so good to be able to do things!  I can’t say I’ve ever felt like a gladiator given the thumbs-up after ordering a coffee in Australia.  Everybody should experience that.

Next is Nevskiy Prospekt.  In my first few weeks after arriving, walking down Nevskiy, I felt like I’d finally found home.  Now, walking down it at 11pm when it’s still light, I feel incredibly privileged to be in this beautiful, nonsensical place.  Nevskiy and Piter have so much history to them, and when I walk past the doll-house palaces on the main road, I can’t help but be reminded.

The other day I was in Dom Knigi (when am I not—I spend a ridiculous amount of time there.  Happily, the low price of books is one of the good things about Russia!) and saw a travel guide to Australia. Bemused, I picked it up and had a flick-through: and was filled with dread.  The sight of the bare eucalypt forests reminded me that I don’t want to live in Australia—not now, and certainly not in the long run.  Conversely, the forests in Russia are just amazing.  They are so beautiful: they’re what forests should be.  They make me feel like magic could happen.  Russia is an inordinately beautiful place.

I have to give a shout-out to a few random things: firstly, there’s being able to wear boots every day (yes!) without being accused of wearing ‘fuck-me’ boots; then there’s the sweet little kittens in the courtyard!  I’m not a cat person by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve made friends with these ones.  They’re always leaping about the place!  Gosh, I know I’ve been living in Piter—it comes with a cat obsession.  Lucky I’m escaping before it becomes full-blown!

Public transport here is fantastic.  I’ve gone on and on about the SPb metro before—there should be one like it everywhere.  But it’s not just that: the buses, marshrutki and so on are equally useful.  Man though, that metro!

As far as food, there’s little to nothing I’ve liked, except for Russian champagne (they call it champagne, so I can too), чудо everything (hello, flavoured, chocolate-coated cheese!), and drinkable yoghurt.  I can’t believe I didn’t like drinkable yoghurt when I first tried it in Prague last year.  It’s so good!

Similarly great has been going to uni, which I loved; all-day night and all-day day; the fact that everybody’s an artist and there are paintings everywhere.  I also love the lack of rules.  Haha of course, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have any rules, but other people would!  Russia is chaos, but I do like being able to do whatever I like, with no repercussions and with complete indifference demonstrated by those around me.

Next has to be the randomness.  It’s bad in a lot of ways, but it’s astonishing, mind-bending, to get up every day and know that absolutely anything could happen.  I never know what I’ll see, or what adventures I’ll have.  Granted, a lot of the adventures are bad, but it’s all so incredibly interesting (high praise, from me!).  It makes me laugh.

I know I’ve done a lot of Russian-man-bashing, but I do have to mention some positives.  Finally.  Way to be balanced, Laura!  Anyway, I find them actually very romantic, in a traditional sense.  They’re relationship-focused, they buy flowers, and they’re chivalrous in a lot of respects.  Even if sometimes that’s ridiculous (when in Vyborg with Nastya, I opened the door and waved her through; then a couple came up and as I was already holding the door I waved them through too.  The woman went, but then the man wasn’t going to let a woman hold the door for him—god forbid he should be emasculated—so we had to do this awkward shuffle whereby I ducked under his arm as he grabbed the door from around me, so that I could pass through as he held it.  Face-palm).

Lastly, I have to mention the empathy and passion I have gained for Russia.  Two years ago I knew nothing at all about it: vodka, bad guys, and ‘something to do with the Cold War’.  Now I’m halfway through the language, I’ve lived here, I’ve made Russian friends, I’ve devoured the history, and I feel like I’ve gained an understanding.  I would hate to think of a world without Russia (unless, of course, it got its own little world.  Maybe a moon or something.  Which would be accessible.  That seems reasonable.. :p).  I’m overwhelmed when reading about the history or politics, and struggle not to cry when feeling the tragedy of the place.  It’s a place which makes no sense, but it’s easy to see how it got this way.  I finally understand why Russian emigrants miss their homeland: things can be very bad here, but it’s a place worthy of passion.

I tell my students to write conclusions to their written pieces, and I feel I can hardly do less.  Do I love or hate Russia more?  I’m not sure, but it’s become part of me, like the other places I’ve lived.  I suppose I won’t know really how I feel about it until—if and when—I come back.  That will be the test: if I return, it’s because I can’t live without it.

Either way, Russia has been an experience.  An impossible, ridiculous, near-inconceivable car-crash of an experience, but an interesting and eye-opening one nonetheless.  Thank-you to everybody who has been here to experience it with me.

Life in random bursts.

Firstly, spring here is freaking miraculous.  In seemingly the space of the week, it went from bare and barren to astonishingly green and verdant.  Incredible: I can’t even imagine how summer is!

Secondly, I passed my Russian exam (yay!) and have been packing to leave today.  I can’t believe I’m only in Russia for three more days… it’s almost incomprehensible.  Leaving the moon, what?!  I have a lot to write about and am as always too over-run (or, as I like to think, too amazingly good at procrastinating) to write.  Moreover, a few days ago I discovered that someone has been creeping on me on facebook (and I do have super-high privacy settings—they managed to get around them).  I have no problem with broadcasting my brain to the world (more than 50,000 words on this blog so far!).  I get emails about every fortnight from someone who’s self-confessedly been stalking me via the blog, and they have questions I haven’t answered yet—and that’s also fine.  But it’s different  having someone dishonestly watching what you’re doing.  It’s made me reconsider whether I really want to continue keeping a blog about my travels.  We’ll see.

Anyway, back to sunshine-mode: I haven’t had a ‘random in Russia’ post for a while now, so before I get into the ‘oh my god I’m leaving’ posts, I figured I’d do something a little lighter.  (Good start, Laura!)  So, here are a few of the random moments I’ve relished over the last few weeks:

  • Last Thursday night after babysitting, I met Lana and we went to dinner.  She’s now writing for the St Petersburg Times, and so we went to review a vegetarian restaurant in the centre.  It was a veritable feast: we ordered everything on the menu!  It was vegetarian, and dead cheap too.  (It’s at about 11 Kazanskaya Ulitsa, anyone in St P).  They had freshly-squeezed orange juice: I felt like my brain would explode.  It was so good!  Haha but the random moment wasn’t the restaurant nor the food: it’s when some random guy walked past us and I said to Lana, “well that’s a good looking guy”.  Objectification, much?  Saying exactly what I think is a side-effect of living here I think: I expect that people don’t speak English.  As it turns out, this guy did.  Hilarious!  And sadly, this is not even the first time it’s happened.  Good one, Laura.
  • Prior to ‘Victory Day’, on May 9, there were a lot of preparations underway in the city.  One morning when on the bus to uni, I was looking out the window and was rather surprised to see a cannon driving past.  It was an actual cannon from WW2 hooked onto the back of an army truck, with three scared-looking guys draped across it as it drove down Nevsky Prospekt.  I made accidentally eye-contact with one of the guys in question, and he pulled the ‘meh, it’s Russia’ shrug which is so often encountered here.
  • In Australia, cigarette packets have grisly images and slogans about cancer causing death, cancer, birth defects.  Here:
    Smoking may cause impotence.
    Smoking may cause impotence.

    Priorities, priorities.

  • A month or so ago in my adult class, we were talking about the topic of ‘living standards’.  I threw it to the crowd, and asked what the main reasons for higher or lower living costs are.  First answer?  “Corruption.  How much corruption there is”.  Oh, Russia.
  • It was my final ‘life club’ on Friday.  Life Clubs are meant to be realistic English-language situations.  In this case, my set topic was ~music.  We made music with water-glasses and everything!  I actually successfully made a glass ‘sing’ for the first time in my life.  So my 7-year-old student arguably taught me more than I taught them on that particular occasion… Anyway, at the end of the lesson I gave them all instruments to make up a song.  We then played along to songs on youtube, and they begged me to put on ‘Gangnam Style’.  I think that seeing a class full of young kids dancing to Gangnam Style while holding a cacophonous assortment of maracas, drums and tambourines is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen!  Mannn did they get into it.  Of course, there was the somewhat unpleasant side effect of having said song stuck in my head for the next two days..
  • I spotted a Dr Seuss character (and her be-rat-tailed friend) at the Festival of Lights the other week:
    festivaloflights (1 of 3)
  • Last Tuesday night as I was trying to get some sleep before exams in the morning, someone in the apartment block started doing house renovations.  At 11pm.  They were ripping out cupboards and walls.  Thankyou!  At around midnight, my flatmate Michael then burst into the apartment all aflutter because there was a man with a knife in the courtyard, who was being pinned to the ground by police.  Michael had had to physically step over this guy to get to our apartment.  I didn’t even respond from my room—it happens every day.  It’s Russia.  And I was focusing on trying to sleep haha!
  • On the topic of knives and deaths and so on and so forth, one of my students told me that a body was recently found in one of St Petersburg’s most famous theatres.  Her husband words there, and filled her in on the details.  Apparently this guy had killed himself in the attic.  He left a note, dated during the winter: so he’d been there for months and months.  I was very confused: how could this guy have been missing for months and no-one noticed?  You’d think you’d at least check their place of employment…  Great police work.
  • Finally, on the topic of theatres, we’re up to Saturday night.  As my last Saturday night in Russia, I decided to arrange a party.  It’s something I do around every month anyway.  Haha I think mainly because I’m lazy, and want people to come to me, rather than having to go out!  Also, lack of money is a thing.  Anyway, the weather was a bit rubbish, and so around an hour before the party was due to start, heaps of people told me they weren’t going to make it.  I then decided to cancel it, as I’d go out with Lana instead: but I hadn’t managed to tell everyone about the cancellation, so I had a very strange selection of people arrive.  The first two to come were Les (who only speaks English), and Nastichka (of Siberia), who only speaks Russian.  So for about an hour, perhaps longer, I was literally the only person in the room who could speak to each of them.  So, so, so awkward.  Eventually, more people came, until everybody bar Les could speak Russian and only a couple of people could speak English: so we switched.  Poor Les.  He eventually left.  Apparently I’m an arsehole…
    Anyway, at around half midnight, two girls from my uni class (one German, one Italian) arrived, and so I left with them and headed out to find where Lana’s party had gotten to.  We wound up at a bar near Chernyshevskaya and I spoke with Lana and Hoos for a little before playing jenga with the German girl.  As all adults do.
    The Italian girl with her Russian possibly-boyfriend made it to the bar, and they said they were headed to a house-party.  I said I’d come too.  Hoos asked me, “what are you doing?  Where are you going?” and I said “I have no idea—that’s kind of the point.”  Safety first!
    Me, the two other girls, the Russian guy and his Russian/Israeli friend all piled into an illegal taxi and headed to goodness-knows-where, where we joined two other guys for the rest of the night.  The four guys all work at a theatre in St P (not the same one as the suicide guy) and were all fairly entertaining.  Actually, they all played the guitar and sang particularly well, so we were serenaded with Russian music.  Which is depressing as fuck.  Russian music is just not happy.  Haha either way, it was a fun night.  Of the seven of us, we were all from different countries, so went by our country names (as is pretty usual actually: I’m used to responding to ‘Australia’).  At around 5:30 I think, I had a little nap, and the others woke me up to go home about an hour later.  Apparently we were only 1km from Sennaya Ploschad’.  I finally got home after 8am… and promptly spent the next two days doing absolutely nothing while trying to catch up on sleep.

Anyway, it’s time to go baby-sitting.  Expect a Russia pros/cons entry in the next few days.  It probably won’t be any less drivelly than this one!  (Forewarned is forearmed, right?  And who doesn’t want four arms?!)

Cheese and random noises.

Nastya and I went on an adventure to Выборг (Vyborg), a couple of hours north of Petersburg.  In keeping with my expectations of Russia, things got random. I am not, and have never been, a morning person: so when we got on the train, I blew up my neck pillow, put on my eye mask, and tried to go to sleep.  Then a salesman came out.  It’s pretty normal to encounter a range of salespeople on local trains in Russia, selling everything from magazines to potato peelers.  Not this guy, though: this guy was selling balloons.  Awesome balloons.  Balloons “which you can blow up 50 times and then let them go and they make a funny sound”.  They can even travel up to the third floor of a building when you let them go!  (So evidently, they were nothing like every other kind of balloon..)  Later that day we saw a couple walking around with one of these vaunted balloons, and they also look pretty much like an giant inflatable… well, you’ll get it: LauraMaySkillen (15 of 20) After arriving in Vyborg, we headed straight to a pub for the essentials: coffee and food.  When ordering my omelette, Nastya started giggling at me and I wondered why: she tried to cover by saying how it’s great that i’m so unusually conversational in Russian, but then later she confessed it’s because I say ‘cheese’ funnily.  I can normally say the letter ‘ы’, but when it’s between ‘с’ and ‘р’ I just completely fail!  I spent the half an hour after she told me muttering cheese to myself haha.  And I had the time to spare: we got a little lost and wandered around the town for quite a while.

"We will give to good hands RATS"
“We will give to good hands RATS”
And he became my friend, and I called him Stumpy.
And he was my friend, and I called him Stumpy.

We were finally presented with the sight below: LauraMaySkillen (3 of 20)

It’s at the hostel’s address and had a sign saying ‘hostel’, but strangely, was not actually the hostel.  The ‘hostel’ sign was to indicate that the hostel was not at that door, but at the next one.  Of course!  So intuitive!  Wanders then resumed.

Vyborg was much more European than the other parts of Russia I've seen: unsurprising, considering it used to be Finland.  It's very much falling apart, however.
Vyborg was much more European than the other parts of Russia I’ve seen: unsurprising, considering it used to be Finland. It’s very much falling apart, however.
Just a pot-hole.  Nothing serious.
A heaps good road.
Not just eyelashes for the lights, but drawn-on eyebrows.
Not just eyelashes for the lights, but drawn-on eyebrows.
There are always people posing around you in Russia.  This lady's in front of a statue of Peter the First.

There are always people posing around you in Russia. This lady’s in front of a statue of Peter the First.

We next climbed up to check out Peter from a little closer, turned around, and were confronted by this guy in Russian-flag-themed ushanka and saluting Peter:


We then proceeded to Monrepo Park, which was rather nice.

LauraMaySkillen (9 of 20)

Nastya tries to climb onto the bridge.

Nastya tries to climb onto the bridge railing.

We spotted a rather lonesome soul in the woods.
We spotted a rather lonesome soul in the woods.
Such a pretty rock!
Such a pretty rock!

We saw a guy running helter-skelter through the park with a baby in a pram.  It was incredible.

We also saw three girls heading into the park, presumably to go for a bit of a hike, in super-appropriate clothing and footwear:

LauraMaySkillen (13 of 20)

On the way back into Выборг there was a rather picturesque bridge covered in padlocks.  It’s a Russian tradition to use these ‘love locks’ (thanks for that, wikipedia!) to symbolise everlasting love, and the peoples’ names are usually written on them.  All towns have a dedicated bridge to be used for the locks, but you can find at least one or two on most bridges.

LauraMaySkillen (14 of 20)
Haha I can’t help but wonder what kind of door the huge lock in the foreground was designed to be used on!

Dinner was in the appropriately-named Сова cafe, as the whole place was filled with owl statues and decorations.  The lamp fittings, the carpets, everything was owl-themed.  When we paid the bill I left a crane I’d made from a serviette, and the waitress instantly crushed it.  Maybe owls don’t tolerate avian competition.

While we’d been having dinner, Nastya turned to me and said in a very serious and slightly condescending voice (imagine: to a misbehaving and slightly senile person) “Laura.  You’re just making random noises.”  Haha and it’s totally true!  Since, I’ve noticed that half the time I don’t bother using words in either Russian or English: I just make grossed-out sounds or say ‘meh’.  Winning at conversing!

Back at the hostel, we encountered a super-creepy dude in the kitchen so hid in our room instead.  Also in that room were dresses looking like this:

LauraMaySkillen (17 of 20)

Role-playing is massively popular in Russia, and while Nastya was off brushing her teeth I subjected the poor owner of the dresses to a million questions.  She was in Выборг putting together some kind of catalogue using them… how peculiar.

The next day was verrrry lazy after our epic walks of the previous day, and like all good days in the life of adults, it started with milk and chocolate-chip cookies.  Nom nom nom!  While eating them we watched this weird comedy show, where the host wore this amazing combination:

Mmm, taste the glamour!

We meandered for another good five hours.  It’s always interesting talking to Nastya, as while she’s obviously Russian, she’s also lived in the Netherlands and the US, so has a very unique insight into Russia.

My brain’s a little fried as I write this on the 5th, as yesterday I went gulyaying with Liza and Nastya and was speaking almost entirely Russian for 8 hours (hence the length of this blog post: I have zero interest in studying for my Russian exam right now!)  Lizard’s English isn’t very good, so.  Happily, I’ve had some strange break-throughs in my Russian lately.  Three weeks ago I felt like I’d never get anywhere—and in fact felt so bad about it that I counter-intuitively didn’t go to class that week.  But while walking through Vyborg I saw a sign and couldn’t figure out why they’d written the exact same thing twice: I had to make a conscious effort to recognise that “Kamennogorsk” and “Каменногорск” were actually written in different alphabets.  Likewise, I glanced at Nastya’s phone when we were on the marshrutka back to Piter, saw “рг” and knew it was Thursday (четверг).  So at least my studies of a fairly useless language are going well..?

Finally, Nastya put me onto these two stories: naturally, each took place here in ze motherland. 1. A man gets stuck in a garbage chute after trying to run away from his girlfriend 2. A hair-dresser feeds a would-be burglar viagra and keeps him as a sex slave.  Enjoy 🙂


Our hostel in Vyborg: Vyborg Hostel