Sunday, April 26, 2009

On the beach!

While spring officially started weeks ago, it has been quite chilly, and sometimes downright cold. Not today!! I grabbed my sandals...and sweater and headed to the beach! I live on the bay, Finsky Zaliv. Doesn't it sound exotic? I'll show you how exotic:

And no, I have no idea what this thing is, except that it seems to be made mainly of rubber.

Ok, really, that's not fair. It's pretty from certain views, but I didn't get any good shots of good views. Maybe this one:

I'm off to catch some sun on my balcony! Yay!!

Friday, April 24, 2009

How I managed to get in trouble with two countries governments at once...or maybe not at all.

So the cops here are notorious for stopping people and demanding to see documents, i.e. passport. Since I arrived here, I've only seen brown men get stopped. You can call it racial profiling I suppose, but there is a large problem with illegal immigration from border countries. Recently though, I saw 2 white guys get stopped in the same day. I thought, well maybe they're trying to be less stereotypical, maybe not. I found out (heard, not sure of the validity) yesterday that this month is recruitment month for the militia and the military. So they are stopping young white guys too to make sure they didn't miss out on their military duty. Why did I have this conversation yesterday? Well it followed shortly after we got picked up by the police. Rather, 3 got picked up, I got a pedestrian escort. Good times. Here's the skinny of a not so interesting interaction with Russian militia.

I and my Canadian Cohort are walking back to our domicile. En route, we pass two other Canadians. They are sitting on a bench, having what they like to refer to as "street beers". They get a real kick out of drinking on the street. I guess I can't say anything, I'm a big fan of "street-meat", and no, that's not what that means.   We stop to converse. Ya da ya da. Enter the Militia. "Where are you from?" "Do they let you drink beer on the street in Canada and America? In front of a school no less?" Hmmm, very valid point Mr. Officer, what about everybody else? Russians do it all the time. Well, validly they had the right to do something, these guys were drinking in public, illegal. Does it matter that there are two beers and four people? That two are sitting and two are clearly about to walk on? Negs. I'm not surprised. They walk us to the car after confiscating our documents. One cop (of 3) takes out the bullet proof vests from the back of a tiny Lada and asks us to get in the back. Um, 4 people, one guitar, one tiny bench in a Lada. Not gonna happen. So the boys squeeze in and the officer shoves the door on them. I'll point out that not one of them wondered if it was ok to leave a female alone with a Russian officer. Chivalry may be dead in Canada, I'll have to do further research. At the last minute before driving off, the cop in the front hands my escort my documents. And we start walking. He berates me about something. In retrospect, I thought I knew what he was talking about, but now I'm not sure. I ask him where we're going. He says, Militia. I say, Where is that? He doesn't answer. I think the problem is that one of my documents is expired, but I'm sure it's in my apartment which is across the street, let's go get it. No. Can we call the university? No. We keep walking. Then his cell phone rings, Not his police walkie-talkie. He hands me my documents and walks away. I see the car pull up without the boys, he walks over and gets in. Then I see the boys walking up from the other direction. What happened? Just your everyday Russian bribery. They each paid 500 rubles or about 15 bucks, no paper work, and the cops let them go. I really think that in these situations, it's to your benefit to not speak much Russian and keep saying you don't understand. I wasn't even approached about paying and I actually had an expired document!

Which brings me to my next point. I get back to my room where I'm meant to be packing to go to Moscow and realize the document is not in my room. It dawns on me, I never got reregistered. Registering is this little thing of letting the Russian government know your wearabouts at all times. Technically, if you are in one city for longer than three days, you should register again. Dumb. Well, when I got my passport back from getting a new visa, it was right in the middle of my bank account problems, so she says, take your passport, fix that, and come back and register. I had a few weeks. Well with that mess, and then the apartment mess, I completely forgot. So now I'm supposed to go to Moscow, but I have expired documents, which carries a fine, and possible deportation. So I couldn't go. This morning I high-tail it to school with said tail between my legs, to get this sorted out. The woman, who told me that I HAD to bring my passport back to her to get registered tells me, Oh no problem, I have your registration right here! What?! You've had it this whole time? Why did you tell me you didn't have it and that you needed my passport to take care of it??!!! Why did you tell me it's soooo important and to make sure I came back to fix this? Why?! Because it's Russia, that's why. This is just normal.

So I missed out on Moscow for no reason. Train ticket gone. But hey, now I have time to figure out why I'm being audited!... (yeah, no joke there)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Challenge for Fun

The finer points of Russian language. I was informed today by one of my teachers that the words "fun" and "challenge" do not necessarily exist in the Russian language. Well I've been told a hundred times if I've been told once, "Life is hard in Russia". Always with a pitiful face. So my guess is that the word "challenge" is just translated as Жизнь, or life. And "fun"? Well what room for that word can there be in a culture of perpetual challenge.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Semi-Quasi-Ultra Political

My Chinese friend, Wu says yesterday-“I don’t go to school tomorrow. It is Asian Holiday. Hitler’s Birthday”

Well, clearly he didn’t mean holiday like Праздник. He meant that it wasn’t safe for Asians on the streets of Russia on such a marked day.

Sidebar: Do you think perhaps it's a bad idea to have the UN Conference on Racism and the Holocaust memorial services in Israel on the anniversary of Hitler's birthday? I mean, maybe it's to detract from pro-Hitler demonstrations but I'm sure it only causes more racist demonstrations.

At the Lenta yesterday (think Wal-Mart) I wandered into the electronics department to buy a hair iron. An all important tool in modern Russia. Women who choose not to have one of the many smart short-dos that Russian women wear so well, usually have either straight straight hair, or super super curly hair. You would think this would lead to lower prices for the tools used to create such dos. I mean, the law of supply and demand says that high demand equals high price. But it always boggles my mind when something so intrinsic to a society has such high prices. Stripper boots, absurd fur coats, hats, etc., hair irons; these are things intrinsic to female Russian society. There are mass quantities and a thousand stores to buy these things at. But all of the above are twice as much as western prices, even at second hand stores. So I did not purchase a 60$ hair iron. But while I was perusing the choices (actually only two, but 15 hair dryers, there must be a warehouse of hair irons somewhere that I am unaware of) I noticed that the film showing on the television models was a scene depicting a man and two women in bed. Oh yeah, nudity all over the place. Interesting. Free porn viewing at the local super center.

I went to a market the other day. This place mostly sells clothes, used clothes, and well, everything, but mostly clothes. There is one fruit and veg stand. I saw they had some peppers that looked like they might be spicy, a delicacy from what I’ve seen. Hell, flavour is a delicacy in this country. Anyway, I communicated my inquiry as to their spiciness. I receive, “not very”, but that’s better than not at all, so I grab three and make my way over to pay. It’s fairly obvious I’m not Russian at this point by my 3-year old requests for produce. So the large dark haired, dark skinned, fully gold toothed woman asks where I’m from. I oblige. She gets the biggest smile on her face and says, “Honest?!” Then she’s grabbing others and telling them I’m an American. I’m pretty sure she had never met an American. It was cute, and kind of flattering I suppose. But I felt conflicted. I’m nearly positive that this woman was Georgian, hence her love of Americans maybe. But I backed Russia in the conflict. I mean, I don’t have to fell ashamed for being flattered I suppose. But I guess I’m a little concerned over her extreme excitement, like she’d just met Madonna. I guess there are still America worshipers out there. I’m all for Becka worship, but I’m a little uncomfortable being adored for my country.

Back to the UN Conference on Racism. Ahmadinejad. Well, I'll be honest, I thought he was pretty well behaved and the whole thing was a political circus. I'm not pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, I need to put some more research into this, but I will say, that I strongly doubt that Israel is behaving better than Palestine, probably worse, and maybe the Western world is a little biased in how they are handling things. The media coverage of this has just been ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the media coverage of the Obama/Chavez picture. They act like they are so shocked by Ahmadinejad. Everyone knew he was going to say it, I think he toned it down. His words have some value. Just like Limbaugh and Moore, an extreme opinion is needed to keep everything in perspective. But fortunately Limbaugh and Moore don't have nuclear power behind them... Can you imagine? Someone write that book. Or someone just buy an island that we can put Limbaugh and Moore on and let them annoy themselves to cannibalism. I am way off subject now.

Dinner time!

Monday, April 13, 2009

When does an international affair become international relations?

I am not dead. Quite the opposite in fact. A new apartment has been found. This one does not come with a naked woman. It does not include all the gristle filled ravioli you can eat. It does not include a family willing to test all your toiletries for quality. It does not come with fake doors. It does however come with a washing machine. It also includes a balcony with a view of the bay. It comes with easy transport to local markets and large grocery stores. An oven thrown in for good measure. And a fair amount of privacy. The last is only disrupted by the Canadian that I have obviously been brain-washed into allowing into my life. He however includes cooking skills, and a fairly great taste in music, so we'll keep him around for now.

School is going well. I've actually been asked to leave class because I've learned enough to move on. Class. So tomorrow I start anew. Which means at least 2 maybe 3 teachers will grill me at the beginning of every class to see how much I know. Thankfully, a comrade of mine has also been given the boot, so we can get grilled together. A couple of sandwiches we are. Also, conveniently, he lives in the apartment next to mine. Class all around.

This weekend, I may be partial host to an Asian party. Let me ask a question. Who is offended by the use of "Slant eyes"? Now when I use that term, I often get a really bad reaction. But is it more offensive than "black", "blonds", etc? It's just a comment on their physical features, and it's not derisive. However, to call a group of people that includes Japanese, Korean, and Chinese people; Asian, well that seems more insensitive to me. Asia after all includes India, Turkey, Russia even, and all the Middle East. And some people are flat out offended by the term "Oriental". I suppose I should ask the people of slanted eyes myself. Well, anyway, the point is that on my floor, I am the only person of non-angled and/or particularly oblique ocular sockets. Koreans live on either side and Chinese on either end of the hall with a sprinkling of Japanese for good measure. So this weekend, we shall drink and be merry.

Next weekend I'm journeying to Moscow for the first time. I'll be sharing a sleeper train with 5 Canadians. I will either come out of this completely scarred, or dripping maple juice from my veins. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ruskie Mentalitet

I imagine that anyone who has studied Russian language or Culture has come across this phrase. I hear at least 3 times a week, "In order to speak Russian, you have to understand the Russian Mentality". I can tell you, it's true. I've never found such a psychologically driven language. I'll give you a few examples:

Sometimes in English you can form a sentence using either the past or present tense or even certain forms of the future, and still retain the same meaning. If you want to make the same point in Russian, go ahead and just use the past tense. Occasionally you can throw in the future tense, but if there is a way not to use the present tense, do it. Why? Russians do not live in the present. It's too hard to deal with.

Here are other examples of the mentality showing through the language. The most frequently used words for "to have" and "to eat" are the same. This has always struck me as quite telling.

The common word for happy also can mean lucky. Because you have to be lucky here to be happy.

This one, I think I just see, but I don't think there is any etymology to back this up: the word "work" contains the word for slave.

You know, I recently kissed a Canadian, so obviously my standards and my mind are slipping (were slipping), so you'll have to take these observations with a grain of salt, if you have any.

Lenin's blow out

Today may live in infamy. Today is the day that Lenin flatulated so vociferously that he blew his own ass off. This is only half a joke. This morning, someone planted a small incendiary device on the statue of Vladimir Lenin that was located near Ploshatz Lenina Metro and Finlandsky Voksal for those of familiar with SPB. It caused a hole over three feet wide.

The incident occurred at 04:30. Near a metro that doesn't open until 6am (although maybe there are trains leaving that early). It only blew his ass off (however, he is made of bronze, so this was still probably pretty strong) (I just read it was 300grams of TNT, which means nothing to me, maybe you know if this is alot or not). No one was hurt. My guess is this was just to make a point, though what I don't know. I can't imagine they meant to only blow his ass off. I mean, is there some group of terrorists sitting in a hole somewhere terribly embarrassed?

Now a friend of mine suggested that this was an April Fools joke. This is quite plausible. I found the article on the BBC, on RIA Novosti (a Russian news agency) and in one other paper. Now each article has at least one fact that the others don't. Which means that they probably didn't just line up to copy the BBC. Though it doesn't mean that some jokester didn't just call each agency and gave each one, one more piece of information. Well, perhaps tomorrow I'll pay a visit to the site. Unfortunately, if the story is true, the statue has already been removed and I won't get a picture of Lenin with blown-out trousers.

This one is from the BBC.

But if the story is true, maybe they should just buy a new Lenin. I know where you can get one cheap. ( I don't purport that wikipedia is a valid reference, but I'm in a hurry) There's one for $250,000 in America. It's original Soviet, and hell, the owner will probably lower the price, I mean, it's a crisis right?

Where's Becka??


I just read that "Authorities ordered the monument be dismantled to carry out restoration work, after fears the statue could collapse. The work is expected to cost up to 8 million rubles ($236,000)."