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Moscow Eve

Tomorrow morning I fly back to Russia, nearly two years to the day since I left.  I’m going for 5.5 weeks, and it should be…interesting.  Naturally I haven’t started to pack yet, but my room is getting extremely clean, so that’s good!

I have very, very mixed feelings about going back.  I guess the only thing that’s changed since my wrap-up love/hate post about Russia is time and perspective—and an annexation or so ;).  Everybody keeps telling me how I must be so excited, and looking forward to going back—but that’s not how I feel at all.  On the one hand, it’ll be great to hear and speak Russian again, to see my former students, friends and colleagues.  It’ll be interesting to see Russia in the summertime (which I’m pretty sure is some kind of oxymoronic impossibility), and to see what’s changed in the intervening two years.  Plus, let’s be honest, Red Square is kick-ass.

On the other hand, eugh.  I’m not looking forward to the stress of it all—the language barrier, given how much I’ve forgotten (cases?  What cases?!).  But far more than that, just the everyday nightmare of people being angry, yelling at each other, using each other, being cruel to one another.  I can never decide whether the dominant emotion in Russia is anger, hatred, despair, or apathy.  Obviously I didn’t have a great time last time, thanks in large part to the asshole company I was working for.  But gosh.  Going back to a country where I’m told to be quiet, because men are talking; where I’m told by strangers that I need to go and ‘fix’ myself to be prettier; where I’m ‘old and stupid‘ because I’m about to turn 30 and aren’t married with kids.  And the godawful food, of course.  So yeah, looking forward to it?  A difficult point to argue.

All the same, I’ve got a pretty fun weekend lined up: tomorrow night I’m going out with Jack, who I studied with in Prague; Saturday night I’m catching up with Hoos, who I worked with for the most epic class in St Petersburg; and then I’m spending Sunday with Artur, who was kind enough to show me around Moscow last time I was there.  From there I don’t know whether I’ll catch the overnight train straight up to Piter, where I’ll be staying with Naz and Mikita (expect a follow-up video with Naz), or go via Nizhniy Novgorod on the ‘mighty Volga’.  Either way, once I arrive I’ll be catching up with people, working on my Russian, and attending a conference at the end of June before flying back to Brussels on the 28th to start a quick summer school on post-Soviet conflict.  Haha.  I guess I can’t be accused of going off-theme.

Be prepared for imminent and inevitable mis-adventuring.

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Take Me to Church

One of my housemates is currently looking for work, and so each morning last week he greeted me with this song, belting out the only words he knew (“take me to church”):

Today it was stuck in my head so I looked up the lyrics, only to find (much to my amusement) that the song isn’t about a religious experience, but instead about sex.  So whenever this guy greets me/anyone with “take me to church”, in the context of the song he’s actually demanding that we immediately make passionate love to him.  Lol.  I think I might not tell him.

I must say, my flatmates are freaking amazing.  I haven’t seen one of them (R/Ms Belgium) in a few days, but the others are always adventuring with me—D (church man/Mr Belgium) has obviously been hanging out with me during the day, and we went missioning on Friday; M (Ms France) and I have been on a few adventures and had some good conversations, and A (Mr France) invited me out on Saturday night (though I didn’t end up going) and is an all-round lovely person.

Apart from that, I really like Belgium, and the little of my course I’ve done so far is thoroughly enjoyable.  I think I said already, but my professors are all adorable, and the course content is obviously fascinating.

I have, however, hit PRIME culture shock as of today.  I mean, Belgians are all freaking lovely, helpful and understanding, and it is a Western country.  But man.  It’s the little things that really get to you: not knowing where to find things (what kind of store sells dressing gowns?), and the supermarket.  Mon dieu (just going to leave that there and set linguistic difficulties aside for the moment)!  I spend at least an hour there every time, figuring out which kind of flour is which, looking for pine-nuts for twenty minutes (what section do they belong in here?), and bloody hell—say I want to shave my legs?  Where the fuck do I buy razor blades?  Aaaagh!  Everything is just slightly wrong, and in many ways it feels like some kind of dementia preview: nothing is as I expect, my routine is off, and I can just barely deal with it.  I haven’t actually cried in the supermarket yet, though it’s been a close thing.  Twice.  The second time today, and the first time the other day when I got to check out, only to find that they didn’t accept my card and I had no cash, so I had to leave all of my groceries behind.  Supermarkets are the worst.

I also know it’s fucking retarded, but I’m already feeling depressed at the thought of leaving.  As an Australian I can’t work for the EU or NATO (not that I give two whits about the latter, but it’s the other major organisation in Brussels so worth mentioning), and generally I’m feeling glum about my prospects for employment and sponsorship.  I’m trying to be positive about this year—it’s a luxury, you know?  Another year in the place I’m meant to be.  But then I’m constantly dragged away from my home and forced back to Australia.

Speaking of Australia and ‘fucking retards’, it has to be mentioned that it is, again, racist bigot/invasion day in Australia.  I awoke to the news that the simian representing us to the world has knighted Prince Phillip.  Eugh.  On so many levels.  He’s so wildly out of touch—what a complete joke!  But as I was cooking dinner just now, I wondered whether perhaps Mr Abbott and I have something in common: he’s clearly in love with the UK and everything it stands for, and apparently living in some kind of delusion where he’s a diligent subject of Her Majesty the Queen.  Maybe when I’m President of Australia, I’ll still be so wildly besotted with Europe that I’ll create my own reality like Abbott’s, and start pledging our allegiance to the EU and knighting residents of Malta or something in hopes that they’ll adopt me as one of their own.  Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve got lots (and lots and lots) more reading to do for the week ahead, so back to it like a good little student for me.

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Oklahoma City

Okay, so firstly, this post has nothing whatsoever to do with Oklahoma.  Nor does it have anything to do with the US.  Nor even travelling, for that matter—instead, it’s about yet another stupid idea that I had.

My great idea—pauses to groan and face-palm—was to try online dating.  Oh, how I wish I were kidding.  I mean, I get that it’s mainstream now, but still.  Anyway, I wrote a post around 18 months ago called ‘Home‘, in which I said that I finally had room for someone else in my life.  The thing is, I turn 30 in 6 months and 12 days, and I have never been in love.  Not once!  Not once ever!!  I’m basically the set-up for a chic flick.  Yuck!  I haven’t even dated in nearly four years, which accumulated very quickly.  Between being heart-broken for a disproportionately long time, then in Russia, and then in Australia (but knowing I was leaving again), it just sort of turned out that way: I was busy living my life, and in the meantime nearly half a decade passed.  Haha.  ‘Half a decade’.

At this point I should probably also highlight my deep and abiding cynicism.  So I’m a cynic who wrote a fairy-tale.  The thing is, in preparation for that I read around 50 romance novels (nauseating), and I’d been around the Russian cult of romantic-ness (as opposed to romanticism) for quite some time.  It was all sort of easy after that: whenever I got stuck, I thought to myself ‘but what would a Russian want to happen?’  And believe me, I know all the cynicism-related clichés: “scratch a cynic, and you’ll find a disappointed romantic”.  A google images search for cynicism came up with some pretty hilarious results:

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I did also enjoy the George Lucas (of all people) quote: “If the boy and girl walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand in the last scene, it adds 10 million to the box office.”  Eugh.  But my perception of it all as a fairy-tale, something that resides exclusively in the realm of fiction, is probably slightly less hilarious than the 48 hours I managed to last on online dating.  Yup: 48.

After my imposed single-hood of the last 4 years, I’ve put it on my to-do list that I have to try dating again this year.  I have no idea why, really: entertainment?  Variety?  The potential for excruciatingly awkward stories?  So, with my spirit of adventure firmly in hand (more on that in a minute), I bit the bullet and signed up to OkCupid, as the site I’d heard of the most.  (At this point I should probably mention that I am stopping and shaking my head at at least every other sentence.)  At least it’s a step above Tinder?  When I used the abbreviation ‘okc’ to a friend, he thought I was talking about Oklahoma City’s football team—hence the otherwise rather random title.

Sign-up itself was fairly painless.  Haha and they have so many questions to answer—it was strangely addictive, like all the personality quizzes that used to be on SparkQuizzes (?) during high school.  They were also quite interesting insofar as clarifying my own opinions on things.  However, once you’ve answered enough questions, it builds you a personality profile: and apparently my interests consist pretty much entirely of politics, math, sex, and adventures.   Haha for a while there my ‘top attribute’ was adventurousness (let’s face it, no surprises), then ‘arrogant’ started creeping up (ditto), and then suddenly, out of nowhere, ‘thrifty’ leaped to the top.  Thrifty.  What kind of negative-connotation bull shit is that?!  Hilarious.

Anyway, my stingey sex-addicted math-head self apparently wasn’t quite enough to scare people off, and responses started flooding in.  And I use the word ‘flooded’ because I felt like I was drowning: the tide of diverse desperation was all just too much.  Because while the cliché is that people will open with ‘tits or gtfo’, ‘hey wanna suk my dk bb’ (lol), or just insistent ‘hey’s, most people actually put a lot of thought into what they were writing me.  I simply do not have time in my day to reply to tens and hundreds of people, and the fact that they’d thought about what they were writing made it more like I was rejecting them, personally.  I did have a few more interesting opening messages, of course: I think my favourite was from a guy who was hoping to tie me up and take photos.  He was really respectful about it, but seriously—as if I’m going to let some complete stranger tie me up!  What happened to buying me a drink first?!

Next there was the ‘quick match’ feature, which while on a laptop isn’t unreasonable (it shows the guy’s self-introduction as well as photos), on my phone it brought out what I see as a pretty ugly side to myself.  On the phone app, ‘quick match’ was more Tinder-esque: swipe left to reject, or swipe right to ‘like’.  You couldn’t seem to access the person’s profile from that page, so instead you were judging entire human beings on their profile picture alone.  How awful is that.  In an effort to get through the hundreds that were stacking up, I found myself judging people on a purely superficial basis.  It honestly just disgusted me.  Incidentally, I only lasted around 12 hours with the phone app before uninstalling it because the constant notifications were so stressful: every time I’d see a message or a ‘like’ come through, I’d just think “oh, fuck off!”.

All in all, the whole thing made me feel like I was suffocating under the administrative workload, while bringing out these awful sides to myself.  It’s like people were being objectified and commodified—it was soooo depressing, and I was in a funk over it most of the day.  That’s right: less than 36 hours after signing up, it made me feel thoroughly down for around 12 hours (and continuing).  I really don’t think online dating is for me.  Haha onto the next project!

On another note, I’ve started doing a ‘Real Life Where’s Wally’, and will be posting the photos here (see menu) as well as on facebook, so that you can view the photos full-size.

Hmm, this post is a lot more depressing and a lot less hilarious than I anticipated.  May follow-up experiences be awkward rather than agonising?  Haha or perhaps I’ll just stick with being the Wicked Witch of the West, and doing whatever the hell I want 😉

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Dissociation

It has been a big, big month.  There have been a lot of ups and downs—realising someone very important to me is very sick; finding out I got a scholarship for my course; meeting my uncle for the first time since I was 8; getting good book reviews; getting bad book reviews; letting go of one big friendship; travelling all around the place; saying a thousand freaking goodbyes to people, the majority of whom I won’t see again; finishing work; continuing to meet new people (that’s the problem with goodbyes—they lead to more hellos!), the list goes on.  And I am done.  No more emotion for Laura.  Haha luckily (?) I have done this a lot of times before, and have all of the best maladaptive psychological methods for dealing with it :p

Seriously though, it’s getting really hard to keep uprooting all of my life to start all over again.  This is the longest I’ve been in one job (technically I was at the law firm longer, but I took leave without pay in the middle to go spend a couple of months in Eastern Europe), and it’s by far the longest I’ve lived in one place.  Even where I’ve lived in the same city before, I’ve moved from house to house as leases expired etc, and so this is the most stable my life has ever been.  I’ve met some amazing people this year, done some crazy things, had an awesome flatmate and been on a zillion adventures (dragging poor JFord along to most of them).  But now it’s suddenly all over again, and it’s time to start from scratch.  In a new country.  Again.

It really is all too much and too overwhelming, so I’m pretty much pushing it all to the back of my mind and focusing on getting through things one step at a time.  Today JFord and I are going to the beach and I’m farewelling my housemate; tomorrow I’m going to another beach (expect a blog post about that one, it’s going to be quite an ‘experience’); Wednesday I fly out.  Thursday morning I get to Düsseldorf, then hang out for around eight hours before flying to Manchester.  Tilly is going to pick me up and drive me back to Liverpool, where I’ll spend the rest of the day with her and her family.  Boxing Day apparently we’re going drinking, then at some point I’m headed to Cardiff to go and catch Nastya, who had a baby last week.  (Haha I’m not going to give explanation of who these people are, as if you’ve been reading my blog a while, you’ve already ‘met’ them all!)  On New Year’s Eve I’m catching a train from London to Bourg-St-Maurice in the French Alps, where Wicklund will pick me up at 9pm at night.  Commence the drinking.  Then I will go riding for a few days before heading up to Brussels.  Incidentally, my snowboard has led to potentially debilitatingly expensive excess luggage… :/

What else?  Well, I need to find somewhere to live of course.  I should probably revise my French at some point, too (not going to lie, I’m going to be completely fucked at first).  My orientation week starts 12 January, then the course itself starts 19 January—less than a freaking month from now!  That weekend I should be catching up with a guy I met in Colombia, and then, no plans.  Well, apart from a few visits to/from people.  I definitely need to get onto that—I’m unfortunately the kind of person who needs things to look forward to, so they don’t have to think about everything they’ve just left behind!

Oh well, at the end of the day, at least I won’t be in Russia.

Rainbows, redwoods, and waters hot and cold

Rotorua saw us taking another leisurely late start to the day, as I trotted off at the thoroughly reasonable hour of 8:30 in search of a shower.  Now, while Base let us use their showers, these were not the showers for their regular customers: they were pleb showers.  I’m surprised they didn’t make us use a different entrance to the building.

I gather that most of the hostel dorms had bathrooms in the rooms, with just this one or two on the top floor of the building.  And you know what it means when there’s a shower outside of a room in a hostel?  That means it’s the sex shower.  Yup, I cleaned myself in the sex shower.  (For those of us who haven’t spent almost absurd amounts of time in hostels, it’s generally considered bad form to take part in any naked shenanigans in your dorm room.  Unless everybody else is invited, of course.  So you have the sex shower.  Living the dream, right?)

After studiously not thinking about the walls and floor of the bathroom, it was time to head off.  Well, nearly—I hadn’t been in any thermal pools of any description yet, and our guide-lady at Kiwi Encounter the day before had suggested we go for a wander in a particular park.  She told that there were pools there and assured us that the water was refreshed every day, so we had no need to worry about kids peeing in it.  Yayyy detail.  Happily, this park was over the street from the hostel, so wander we did.

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In the photo you can see that (a) I don’t understand weather, and (b) I’m holding a super-delicious blackcurrant hot chocolate.  That plus “go-nuts” were breakfast, which we bought from a market stall.  More excitingly however, we saw a book sale and I picked up some reading material!  Crisis averted!  Haha I can’t even remember the last time I’d bought a real book that wasn’t a textbook, in Russian, or a specific translation of a classic.  I’m reliant on my Kindle… well, was reliant on my Kindle.  RIP my friend!

Finally it was time to get properly moving.  Our first stop was Rainbow Mountain (which I mentally renamed “Candy Mountain”, causing me to quote lines from the video to Guma, who had no idea what was going on).  We did the quick Crater Lakes walk, then it was off again.  Next stop was “The Redwoods”, a gigantic plantation of California redwoods (Whakarewarewa Forest).  They were all so grand and beautiful!  We went for a pretty amazing walk through them for about an hour, and honestly, it was hard to believe we were in the Southern Hemisphere.  Hmm.  Not sure on the capitalisation there.  I’m le tired.

Next stop was supposed to be a walk on the shores of Lake Tarewera, but we went thoroughly the wrong way.  It was a rather lovely wrong way though, and we stopped at Blue and Emerald Lakes (which, due to the weather, didn’t look even slightly blue nor emerald).  We didn’t spend long there though, as we still had a long way to go: our destination for the day was Coromandel Peninsula, so that we could do the Pinnacles walk the next day.

Getting close to Coromandel, the windy roads which I was starting to associate so closely with New Zealand made a reappearance.  After a few solid hour of driving, we stopped at a place called T-something (I, uh, may have mis-spelled that…), but it was horrendously cold and windy so we got pretty much straight back in the van again to find an adventure.  We soon found ourselves further north and on a walk to Cathedral Cove.

Cathedral Cove is apparently quite a big deal, but I quietly think it may have been somewhat arbitrarily added to the “list of things for tourists to do” in New Zealand.  At least, it seemed to cater to tourists, and there were rather a lot of people there.  It was around half an hour’s walk each way, and when we got back to the car I remember glancing at Guma and was so surprised at his appearance I just about squeaked.  “Guma, your face is a river!” I exclaimed, and I swear, it was.  “Yeah, well when you walk like that,” he observed.  “You can tell you live in the city.”  To be fair, he was still wearing trousers and a jacket, whereas I’d spent the day in a singlet and shorts.  In fact, that was pretty much our standard driving gear: him in full winter clothes and a beanie, and me wearing summer.  We have very, very different ideas about what an acceptable temperature is, so while he wanted the air con in the van at 31 degrees, I preferred 18.  We compromised on around 22 and dressed to suit.  Genetics, I guess?  His ancestors are from the equatorial regions, whereas mine are (to my knowledge) from wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy further north.

Our next stop before going back to T-something was ‘Hot Water Beach’, another one of the tourist ‘must-dos’.  It was kind of a bust, though: while you can carve yourself out a little bath at low tide which will fill with thermally-heated water, it was horrible weather and not especially low tide.  I stuck my toe in and nope’d right on out again.

Back at T-something, we couldn’t find the free camping that was meant to be there somewhere, so drove into some guy’s yard.  To be fair, he had a sign up saying that was okay.  I went and rang the doorbell to pay, and he was the hippiest surfer dude going.  Oh!  And Guma cooked dinner that night!  Poor boy—I gave him some risotto to sort out, and it was all a bit much for him.  We got there eventually though, then settled down for our second-last night of the trip.

(Written 12/11/14 and back-dated.)