Thursday, May 21, 2009


If someone can find for me the Russian Bureaucracy Machine, or perhaps the Russian Bureaucracy Factory, or more likely the Russian Bureaucracy Hole, I will gladly go there, and give it all my money and credit cards, just to save some part of my sanity, and maybe a little chunk of time.

I awoke this morning to light streaming through my drab grey curtains. I awoke in fear, as it must have been at least 11 am. Nope, it’s just Russia. It was in fact 5:30 am and already the light was interfering with my sleep. White Nights, here I come....screaming... As I lay there contemplating what position to best return to sleep , it dawned on me: I’m about to get screwed all day and weekend, and not in a pleasant way. I’m reminded of Bam Margera in Jackass when he would say, “I’m Bam Margera, and I feel like kicking my dad’s ass all day.” I could see him standing at the end of my bed ready to pounce, I was a little turned on, but that's not for here. Even with this vision of getting my ass kicked all day, as I jumped out of bed to try to head off this fore-coming screwing, I had no idea what I was in for.

So let’s back up a bit. I’m going to the Ukraine. I wanted to take a train, I love trains. I haven’t done an overnight one in a while, and it’s high time. So I look up trains. This country is completely devoid of information. Especially in English. Even the mostly encompassing transport info webpage that exists in Russian is fairly new. One time I asked a train attendant where I could get a copy of the train routes, she shrugged and said maybe at a souvenir shop. Later I saw people with them, clearly supplied by the train system, but she seemed to have no idea of their existence. So I put some effort into finding a train to Ukraine. I realize in doing so that the one I want crosses Belarus. Sounds nice, a little trip through Minsk. Wrong. You must possess a visa. To CROSS the country. AT NIGHT. Cost? 100$. Also the US government has no relations with Belarus, whatever that means. On a grand scale, it means I can get fucked with and the US Government will really be of no help. So I decide on the longer route. I’m not sure why, but I convinced myself that this route did not go through Belarus. Whew! But on second thought, I decided I’d have a Russian friend check yesterday. She tells me she’s pretty certain this route does in fact go through the EXTAORDINARILY HIGH VISA ZONE. Well, fuck. I’ve already bought the ticket.

So this morning. First, I need to find a map that shows definitively that the route of my train will in fact cross Belarus. Also I need to eat. Also I need to try to make it to class. Worked through the logistics of all this and decided I would get off at a particular metro and go to a café I know has wireless. Of course I get there and my info was wrong, so to Macker’s it is, for a “Fresh Macmuffin”. Yep, my train does go through Belarus. Fuck. On to step two, Find the Belarussian Embassy. Well this came surprisingly easy, considering I’d already looked for info several times before. So off I go to catch the metro to the embassy, which surprisingly is located near my school! Things are looking up! Oh the traps we fall into in this country when tricked into positivity…

I get to the metro, which I had just used less than an hour ago. It’s closed. Are you freakin kidding me? They decided to do repairs from 715am-10am. Morning rush hour. I really think the government read Dilbert’s Guide to Management. So now I’m in a strange section of town, and have no idea how to get where I need to go. So I jump on the first Marshrutka I see that goes to a different metro. Take that metro to the one near school, and take a tram to the embassy. Conveniently the tram drops off right in front and the conductor didn’t even snarl when I asked for help! Blasted positivity trap…

Well I’m early, the embassy doesn’t open until 9. So I go on a search for money that I will surely need. Surprise surprise, I can’t find a damn ATM machine. Oh wait there’s one! Не Работает. Doesn’t work. So back to the embassy. He tells me I also need photos. Ok, well, little snag, but thankfully, I know exactly where I can get some taken nearby! Joy! And surely there’s a bankomat near there. Off I go. ...To find that the photo place doesn’t open FOR TWO HOURS! So here I start to have a meltdown. He quoted me 100 dollars because I was early and they could probably do it by Tuesday, but if I can’t get this shit done today it’ll be more. I have photos at home, that my alzheimered ass forgot, but as I calculated the time it would take to get there and back, it wasn’t worth it. So I had a mocha and filled out the application. I might add, the first good mocha I’ve had in this country. Perhaps the first good coffee product in general! Well, there’s not much I can do, except go find a bank. So I wander and wander and I find one, that isn’t open. It won’t be open for another 30 minutes, so I queue up with everyone else, there was about 20 people in line by the time it opened. I go inside to use the ATM, wanna guess? НЕ freakin РАБОТАЕТ! Yeah, it doesn’t work. Thankfully, I’m in no hurry at this point since the photo place still isn’t open, so I wander further and find a working ATM, glory glory hallelujah. Then to the photo place…to wait. Now I’ve been to this place before, so besides some communication problems, when it finally opened, all went smoothly.

Back to the embassy. The kind gentlemen that was there before has been replaced by a snotty young woman. She drily demands I fix errors in my application, demands my passport, etc. Then says I need my migration form. In order to be in this country, I have to have my passport, my visa (not attached to my passport), a migration form, and a registration form. I forgot one. But I have a copy! But that does not matter. She says she absolutely cannot do it. No way will she budge on this issue. I have to go home (1.5 hours), and come back (1.5 hours) with it to get this visa thing. So I said to her, what I’ve learned to be such an important phrase in Russian, Что ДелатЬ? And I stood there. This basically means, So what are we gonna do, or What Can I do? What is there to do. And then you wait. And they shrug, and you wait. And they shuffle papers, and you don’t move. And then someone else comes and they worry with them for a bit. And you wait. And they come back to you and act like the previous conversation never happened and start processing your paper work. Wait, what? What happened to "Absolutely not". It’s kind of surprising when things go like this. I read a book once called From Niet to Da, understanding the Russians. It explained how you often get noes, and how to turn them into yeses, but this method was never covered. It may be too Russian for the book. So she’s processing my papers, tells me it will cost 177$ because she isn’t confident it will be done by Tuesday, fair enough, that’s in the rules I read before. Though I can feel my wallet cringing. I get a receipt and go to the next window to pay.

Well at the bank, I hadn’t been able to take out as much as I wanted, but more than enough to cover the visa and so I bought some things on the way to the embassy while I was waiting. Yes, more than enough to cover 100$. So now I’m at the desk, and I don’t have enough money. Что Делать will not work here. I’ve already been around this place, I didn’t see an ATM. But they assure me there is one at this particular building nearby. So fine. I leave and am halfway there when I realize that the embassy closes for lunch in 15 minutes, and they have my passport and copy of my passport. So I begin to walk fast, because I never run unless it’s really an emergency, and well it hasn’t gotten to that yet. I go in one door, see no ATM, Security directs me to a different door. I go to that door, more security, they won’t even let me in. They direct me to a different door. I go to that door. No ATM, but they will let me take out money! with my passport…. And then I started to cry. That might have worked if I had less dignity. So I’m now in full speed walk. At the second door, I had seen ATM machines past security. They will let me in. And then as I’m on my way, I see a little ATM, hidden behind a corner. It even worked! So I take my money and continue the full speed walk to the embassy where I pay, give my receipt and she says to come back tomorrow for my visa. Fingers crossed!

With all this trouble, it’s a real shame that I can’t actually stop in Belarus.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Russian Mystery Fish on a Train

That's a lot of cigarettes and pistachios for three people

So he turned up not drunk, but a bit battered. Apparently two sets of security had seen it fit to introduce his face to the sidewalk. Unfortunately, he's of no danger to anyone but himself and I'm sure just took it. He kept using the word "Fail". I had a "face fail" coming up quite often. While he turned up sober, we quickly commenced drinking, much to my silent protests of class in the morning. Beer, beer, yorsh. Yorsh? Aka "Russian Mystery Fish" Aka, you're getting drunk. Simply vodka and beer, but they insist on calling it a "Cocktail". Well, we made a merry evening of it and I headed back on the last metro. Hopefully his face survived the rest of the night!

Today was class. I made it to all of them, against all...yorsh. Fairly uninteresting as usual. Then I went to, duh duh duuuuuh, the Russian Train Station Ticket Office. Oh dear. The trials and tribulations of simply finding info on trains. And when you finally find it, it's not right. So I have procured a ticket to Odessa, Ukraine. I hope to God I have anyway. After communicating in my shoddy Russian at the info desk, and then waiting forever at the ticket desk, and communicating in shoddy Russian there, I have a ticket of some sort to somewhere on some day. I'll take this ticket to a Russian tomorrow for confirmation. Also, I pray to God that I did not book through Belarus, as they are not the biggest fans of Americans, and I will have to buy a Visa just to take the train through their country IN THE DARK! And it costs OVER 100 DOLLARS!

Did I mention this train will take 35 hours? It will. I'm so stoked. It's a little piece of a dream. The fact that the train is going the opposite way of my dream is no matter at this point.

One of the last things my friend on the left said before I left, "I'm starting feel afraid for my face"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dog apparel as a weather vane.

Chinese girl says she was surprised to see dogs wearing clothes here. To which our idiotic (can't work a DVD) blond teacher responds that it's cold here. To which the Swedish student says, it's cold in Sweden and our dogs don't wear clothes. To which the teacher responds, Then it's warmer there. Her argument was that because the dogs don't wear clothes, it's warmer in Sweden. I might add, it was delivered with quite the caustic look.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Monkey beer

I took the above picture in Cambodia. You really need to click it to see it at full size to appreciate it. The monkey has one paw, in a fist, slamming on the beer can. The other is at his head as if pondering how it all came to this.

First I love this picture, second, it sums up my weekend! The canuck that had previously been shacked up in my apartment took leave on Friday. Not without much unnecessary drama. While I'm glad to be rid of said drama, it did leave me a little out of sorts if for no reason other than my apartment was now empty. So I watched a film on Saturday, Dogville. I could not possibly recommend this movie, except for people who like to watch fucked up shit poorly executed. Maybe I missed the point, but just because it's experimental doesn't make it cool hipsters. As the movie was 3 hours long, I took a nap halfway through, only to be awoken by the phone. It was a guy from Moscow I had met a few months ago. He was in town and wanted to see me. What timing! All became brighter (except for the rest of the movie) and I made plans for the evening.

aside: as we were on the phone, a ten year old Russian boy walked into my apartment and then walked out. I'm supposedly living in a "Student Hotel", but really anybody can live there. It's basically a super overpriced apartment complex. So now there's a group of 10 year olds seem to be occupying a room unsupervised. Prior to this my hall was unfortunately only Chinese and Koreans. Nothing against them, but the food they cook is less than pleasant smelling and they are difficult to understand. With the exception of my friend that lives next door. Also, while the Canuck was in residence, we noticed sheets on the fire escape covered in pigeon poop. We're pretty sure that the Asians are catching pigeons for food out there. Good on em, it just smells!

Then my Chinese friend calls who I haven't been able to see in quite a while, and I talk to my American friend about going out and a night is in the works. Hit up the first bar, meet up with the Americans, consume beverages. Blini en route to the next bar. Catch up with my Chinese friend at Fidel. And then play the waiting game for my Russian. And in he comes, like a hurricane, like a drunk drunk hurricane. I'd like to give him the excuse that he did come in on the train from Moscow and probably drank all the way, as is the custom. But his friend wasn't so blindingly drunk. After he poured half his beer on me, he made his way to the dancefloor, where he fell down and almost went to sleep. His friend rouses him and he proceeds to bother the DJ enough to have himself removed. I'm not sure he wasn't battered a bit by security. After all this, he still keeps calling me to go "гулятинг". The past time of Russians. What I typed there is a bastardisation of the word "To walk/stroll". I'll give him a chance to be sober tomorrow. If he's drunk at 3pm, I'm out.

In the middle of this, as I'm at the bar, all the sudden a friend that had gone back to his country shows up. I still can't figure it out, but apparently he went back to Turkey, and decided he preferred Russia. Probably something to do with girls. Either way, we were super stoked to have him back. I think I could come back to Piter in 20 years and the Turk and the Chinese will still be sitting at that bar.

We'll save bridge lamentations for another day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Big shows in SPB

I'm going to take a minute to list some of the upcoming concerts in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Heaven and Hell ( a form of Black Sabbath)
Duran Duran
The Pet Shop Boys
The Bloodhound Gang
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Depeche Mode

and then...

Limp Bizkit
Motley Crue
Brittany Spears
Linkin Park
The Scorpions w/ Alice Cooper and The Rasmus

That is pretty much the sum-total of big concerts coming to SPB. If I had the money, I would check out some of the first list. And if I had the money, I would buy all the tickets to the second list...and then light them on fire. Well, except for the last one. I would go to that one.