|My place in the swirling nether|
My time in Russia
Journal entry 1. Russia.
The following is my Journal. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Russia until now
Unfortunately when I arrived in Russia I had mono. I was without energy, and I had just been traveling for 24 hours without sleep. I arrived in the airport outside Moscow, and LO! The person that was supposed to meet me was not there. Many taxis offered to give me a “really good deal” to take me into the town, which amounted to more than 40 dollars. Of course even had I decided to accept one of these panhandlers’ offers it would have done me little good as I simply had no idea where to go or what to do. I could find the university certainly, however how was I supposed to find the room out of thousands where I was to be staying? Only knowing a few words of the language I could hardly explain myself. But not to worry because after 24 hours of traveling I only had to wait another 2 and a half hours for someone to finally come and pick me up at the airport.
The first weeks I spent a lot of time reading and wandering aimlessly around the city. The metro is extraordinarily easy to use, and costs less than 20 cents to go anywhere in the city. In the first month I met only Masha. She was kind enough to show me some museums and we visited a theatre or two. The first month for me wasn’t about people it was about settling in, learning a bit of the language, and sleeping (still had a touch of mono, so I couldn’t drink anyway without risking bringing on the symptoms of death). Besides for the first 2 weeks the university wasn’t even open for their regular students.
Soon thereafter I met some foreigners who arrived for the semester. Belgium, Czech republic, Latvia, various former Viking’s nations now reduced to sad places with the highest suicide rates in the world, Russia of course, and unfortunately America as well ;).
These people became my friends, and I began going to the “Boar-house” a club and restaurant. I eat Russian food every day, so its not surprising that I would like to go get a good burger once and a while. Russian food btw is infinitely superior to British food, but I will stop there.
So every Monday night I would go to the Boar House and party like it was 1999. They had 4 for 1 drink specials on Mondays. I met Irina there.
I forgot to mention. For the first several months it was indeed cold dark and miserable. It was dark nearly 24 hours a day. The temperature dipped down to about minus 30, and no one but me was walking around the city of 11 million people. I loved every day of it.
On randomly running into 80 people from my university in America
One day my friend Eric called me up and said his friend had an extra ticket to a concert and was wondering if I’d like to go. I, having learned long since not to turn down invitations, accepted. Well I met the two girls who had the tickets; they were in the choir at MGU and wanted to see this other choir somewhere in the center. Ok, well we get there and it turns out to be the choir from my university in America, Miami University.
The Choir was decent enough, immediately afterwards I went back stage, the guard tried to stop me but I’ve learned long since just to walk straight through bothersome guards in Russia. The first person I ran into back there I introduced myself too, and Eric and I soon had an invitation to dinner in a banquet hall on the red square. The dinner was a little touristy for my tastes, but the food was good, and pretty soon it was decided that Eric and I would take most of them out to a night on the town.
We went back to their hotel, they got changed and we were on our way. Eric thought we should take them to propaganda, but he really meant Karma Bar, which resulted in us leading them aimlessly for about a half hour. Anyway after we convinced them all we knew nothing about Moscow we found the club and packed the place primarily on our own. Karma Bar was temporarily transformed into “First run”.
Around 5:30 I walked the last of them back to the hotel. I take no responsibility for any who may be wandering around Moscow still.
On Alexei’s Birthday Party
Alexei, the guy living next door. Is the only Russian male besides my teacher that I like (of course there are others who aren’t so bad, but these are the only two I got to know who didn’t suck). Alexei is probably ok because he was young enough for us to mold him in our own image (us being the foreigners). He was the communal little brother.
Well he was turning 18 of all ages. Now someone turning 18 in Russia is much “older” than someone turning 18 in America. People in America don’t grow up till they turn 37 and a half. This probably has something to do with the fact that there has been a lot more turmoil going on in Russia in recent years. People have to adapt at an earlier age. I have a feeling the same was true of Americans of my grandfather’s generation.
I’d like to think I don’t fit this stereotype of Americans I just created, I think I grew up as much as I ever will around the age of 5 ;).
There is an amazing thing about Russian birthdays. You see on their birthday, they pay for everything. For his birthday Alexei took about ten of us to every 18 year-old’s dream, a strip bar. ***censored***. On the way back from the strip bar Alexei was absolutely tanked and decided to climb over a 12-foot tall iron fence. Well he failed in this endeavor, at which point I ran up the fence and dropped easily to the other side. So, naturally Alexei picked up a glass bottle and ran around the fence and tried to hit me with it.
The whole way back Alexei attacked me mercilessly while I primarily just stood there, or more correctly walked there. At some point he found some water and tried to get us wet. I few drops touched me so James and I drenched him absolutely, in the process James got me wet, which he claimed to be an accident. I had a similar accident where I got him completely wet. Well J1 and Eric had thus far escaped unscathed, which simply is not acceptable, so we go them wet as well. J1 wasn’t too happy about that. I was.
The next day Alexei was covered in bruises from attacking me (I never once did anything back, or even defended myself to an appreciable degree). I of course, wasn’t. It was very amusing.
On My Birthday:
First off, let me put a little disclaimer at the beginning of this entry. This is not actually my birthday but the day before when I had my party (my actual birthday I spent mostly sleeping)
The day began like most… at noon. How people can bring themselves to leave the beautiful confines of their bed before the sun is directly overhead is beyond me (I require the sun’s gravity to pull me vertically in order for the endeavor to be possible). I went to my class, and then proceeded to clean my room (which is a serious undertaking). At 6 we went to dinner at the Startlight diner. The food I ate there proceeded to make me sick, at nine I was puking in my toilet, which was unfortunate as I was planning on starting the party at ten. What should I do!?!? Well the answer came to me, I took a shot of scotch which made me feel better almost instantly. Around 10:30 no one had shown up yet and it was looking like my party was going to consist of me myself and I. I coerced the limey Belgian and the roosky to come over. I had to go meet Masha at the metro and smuggle her into the university somehow (which is not a particularly easy task after 11 pm). The gate guard was easy enough; we just gave him some small amount of money. However the guard to enter the obshjeetye(I refuse to use the word “dormitory” here, because this is not a correct translation, an obshjeetye is a fortress not unlike the castle grey-skull) is not so willing to partake in such a transaction. So she had to climb up to a window. When she found out she had to climb up to a window about 10 feet high in her nice clothes and high heels she gave me a look, which conveyed “But I think it would be much easier to kill you instead”.
Anyway she made it through and we went back to my room. And a party was starting to happen. Shortly after we arrived more people showed up.
I remembered how much better one shot of scotch had made me feel earlier, so therefore I reasoned ten would make me feel just spectacular. I was right! We had good music playing, as many as 15 people in my tiny little room, and me dancing and taking up all the room for myself. Luckily, as some of you know, I have the skill of being able to fit 400 ml of water in a 250 ml beaker, I employed this skill here to fit many people comfortably in my room as well as leaving me enough space to river dance. As many as three languages were being spoken in the room. I, being the only one who could understand them all. One was English, the other of course, Russian, and the third was the incoherent garble emanating from my mouth, which is a sorry attempt at Russian. At some point some British girl punched me in the face because it was discovered I was a martial artist, and thus must expect to be punched in the face at any given moment.
And then… after a bottle of champagne, a bottle of Scotch, a bottle of jack, and a bottle of vodka and some other number of bottles, had all met their matches, my party ended at some hour of the morning. I saw Masha home. I returned and proceeded to collapse on my bed, only awakening to the call of my professor asking where I was (my alarm apparently wasn’t enough).
I had achieved my goal of making me hate my class as much as possible that day.
Why I came to Russia
I came to Russia for a lot of reasons. I came here to learn a language, because I suck at learning languages, and therefore must force it upon myself. I came here because the job market was sucking and it would be good to continue my education for a wee bit while I see if it gets any better. I came here because I hated Russia… Despised it with an utmost fervor. All I had ever known of Russia was the worst part of my life. I came here to take what it had taken from me.
I should probably mention Alla, aka Mafia-girl as my friends referred to her. They referred to her as such because, well, she was very well connected; and absolutely beautiful. She has a job getting paid 2 hundred dollars a month like everyone else only she still manages to go gallivanting around the world on a semi monthly basis. Hmmm… Between her month long jaunts we would meet. On our first date she asked if she could go pick something up before we went to dinner. I agreed of course, and we proceeded to go pick up a shipment of stamps. The kind of stamps government officials use to make things official, like passports, customs forms, prison release papers… etc. Then we went and ate dinner. Her first advice to me was not to trust anyone in Moscow. We became good friends. She’s also very intelligent, she learned to speak Spanish fluently in 1 month in Spain. Which to me is simply inconceivable. She speaks English better than I. She’s Ukrainian. Someone once suggested that she might have all this money because she might be a prostitute, my reply was that if she had any relationship with prostitutes it would be not as the pimp, but as the pimp’s boss.
Why I am going to China.
As opposed to Russia my purpose for going to china is quite a different matter. I’ve put to rest some truths in my life here in Moscow. I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve learned my first language other than English. It is now time to move on. Enough hippy self-discovery bullshit. They say to know others is wisdom, to know one’s self, enlightenment. That’s a load of crap. I’ve always known myself. The hard part is acting in accordance with myself. Is listening to myself. I didn’t need to come to Russia to figure out jack. Like I said I knew those things about myself from two years ago today.
So why am I going to china. I love my life; I’d love to live till the last star falls from the heavens. But the fact is whether I have ten minutes or ten thousand years my life is composed of a finite period of time, after which I don’t know if I will exist or not, and however long it is in the future whatever there is afterwards will still be waiting for me.
I have a limited quantity of time and I intend to spend it. Martial arts is a passion of mine, one passion, I have many things I am passionate about, I am passionate even about things I’m not fond of and I have no talent for. Like languages, like Russian, which I can speak after a fashion now. I never liked learning languages, I hated it, and I suck at it. That’s why I learned it. Because it’s outside of my usual framework of being, because it kicks my fucking ass.
Martial arts though, are something I’m good at, damn good at, and something I love. So I’m going to the source. The shaolin temple, and I am going to learn Kung Fu from one of those few that carried on the original tradition through the Cultural Revolution of China. I’m going to train for 10 hours a day for months. That is why I’m going to China. For those of you that may think I am putting off my life for a few more month, that’s utter nonsense. I’m living my life, I regret nothing, my eyes are open.
The departure and the train:
The night before my departure I had another party even better than my birthday party was. Nina, Nathan, Alexei, limey tea-sucking British bastards, among others were present. No fewer than 9 bottles of alcohol were consumed, 7 being vodka, one of scotch, and one of plum wine. Beer was there too, but that doesn’t count. Nathan was the DJ with giant black Xs of doom on his hands. I spent most of the time dancing on a chair. Alexei decided in his stupor to try to fight me again. Which was very like the last time, like waves breaking themselves upon the shore.
The next day I felt absolutely fine and went to the gym. Alexei, however, was incapable of leaving his bed for the greater part of the day. So I packed, cleaned and went to get a cab to the train station, Nina, and Alexei walking with me.
At the train station Masha was there to see me off. She bought me a few small gifts, and wrote me a letter. I had taken her to the Bolshoi Theater a few days before to see the ballet. She took me there 4 months ago or so to see an opera.
The scene at the train station was out of a movie. Beautiful tear filled girl sees off guy who she may never see again. As the train pulled away she waved to me with a big smile on her face and tears on her cheeks.
For the first part of the journey I was to share my cabin with a Chinese guy, a guy heading home from the Army after being away for 2 years, and a Nun. Made friends with them fairly easily, and went to bed. It was already 2 am and I only slept a few hours the night before.
I woke up the next day to the heat… sweaty humid heat. All the other cars are air conditioned, but I’m pretty sure I saved some money by being in this one. There was no plaztcart on this train. Anything that goes past Irkusk doesn’t have plaztcart. Which is the lowest car class. Which isn’t all that bad, you have your own bed and everything, it’s just not separated from all the others, lots of bunks, infinity superior to the low class on the train in India. Then again the low class in India is much cheaper.
Anyway the point is it is hot. These railway cars are like the detention boxes they used to put WWII prisoners in when they misbehaved. A metal box that the sun shines on all day and gets hot. Now, given this situation you’d think the provodnik would be more than happy to use his window key to unlock all the windows so you could open them and let some fresh air in. This is what you would think…. but no. Even though they too are stuck in the same car as you they seem to somehow relish the heat.
Well I quickly solved this problem with 100 rubles. You’d like to hear how I gallantly braved the hot box out for 7 days across all of Russia, and a good chunk of china, but I’d prefer to bribe the guy for 3 dollars and have all the windows open instead.
Besides you can see outside better this way.
Food on the train consists of whatever the old ladies are selling at the stops every 6 hours or so. Usually it’s not too bad, some hot homemade food. I bought roast chicken and potatoes last stop for about a dollar.
There are outlets in the hallway, so I’m sitting typing in the hallway, ah, feel the breeze!
Forgot to mention the 3 or 4 year old Chinese kid that kept going through all my stuff and punching me with all his might in the back while I type this particular line right now. (.;ß forcibly inserted by Chinese kid)That’s what I get for showing him a cartoon a few hours ago. ;)
So I’m in Siberia. Thus far it all looks like Nebraska. I think the next interesting thing to see will be lake Baikal two days from now. I spend hours and hours looking out the window watching the world flow by. Popularity greeted me when I played the Matrix II on my computer. I managed to create a moderately sized rift in the fabric of space-time this afternoon, unfortunately it was also highly unstable and I dared not to step through it. If I’m not wrong, and I’m never wrong, the next temporal convergence that would allow such a thing will be tomorrow at exactly 3:43 pm. Unfortunately I don’t know if that’s local time, Moscow time, or Beijing time. The train runs on Moscow time, and occasionally Beijing time or local time.
Day 4 or 5 Lake Baikal
I have always been on the train. My entire existence has consisted of nothing but the one reality… the train.
Ok today at the ass-crack of dawn we pull into a station after Irkusk. The station is small, and nothing really worth noting, except one thing. It is about 1 mile from lake Baikal.
I had set my alarm to wake me up at 5:55, 1 minute or so before we pulled into this station. The only problem was I was still on Moscow time, and I was used to staying awake till 5 in Moscow. So I had only slept about 1 hour.
Several days earlier I determined that I would swim in lake Baikal. We were scheduled to have 10 minutes at this particular train station.
So what happened is the moment the train stopped I threw myself from it and ran the mile full kilt to the shore and didn’t stop, I just ran straight on in. I looked at my watch. 5 minutes had past.
I ran back even faster, my asthma had kicked in big time and I was having difficulty getting enough air.
The first time I ever had an asthma attack I was camping with the cub scouts at a lake about an hour or so from home. I couldn’t breath. My parents came and picked me up and took me to the doctor. I was diagnosed with asthma. I was disappointed. I had looked forward to this trip for some period of time.
This asthma came to me in two forms. Allergic, and exertion. Which meant that sometimes I couldn’t breath because of some kind of pollen or whatever in the air, but worse whenever I pushed myself to a certain level my lungs would just cease to operate.
The solution? When I pushed myself to the level where I couldn’t breath… push harder. Push to a new level. What the hell do I need oxygen for anyway? In martial arts this is what I do. This is why I seem to be overflowing with energy, but in fact the opposite is true. I just don’t let a little thing like complete exhaustion bother me.
So the point of this tirade? It took me a few seconds over 5 minutes to get to the lake. It took me around 4 minutes and 20 seconds to get back. And then what did greet me? The sight of my train pulling away more than 40 seconds early! So after I had already ran my heart out for 9 minutes and 30 seconds, couldn’t breath, without sleep, muscles at the point of involuntary failure, I sprinted as fast as I ever had caught up with the train and jumped on board.
Of course I immediately went to my bunk and fell down.
My guidebook said the train would stop for 15 minutes, the bastards.
Oh, and the first time I ever had asthma and was taken from my camping trip, well I returned the next day.
My roommate, Cergo, is from Georgia. He helped out a lot in the fist few weeks when I didn’t know shit. He had a Russian model living with him in his room who cried a lot.
One night I awoke to a thief being in my room, he ran out of the room and my roommate tore after him. He caught him at the stairwell threw him against the wall and brought him back to our room where we had a talk with him. Anyway to make a long story short we let him go after we had assurances the little thieves guild operating in MGU wouldn’t bother us or our friends again.
After my roommate left for the school year his girlfriend stayed and was always using the bathroom when I needed it.
Left over Soviet bullshit:
In our building there used to be old men who would sit at a desk on the bottom floor. They didn’t give many problems. They’d ask to see your proposk (document saying you are supposed to be there) once or twice then leave you alone for the most part. If you ask me they are a little pointless, there are already guards at the gate of the university.
Anyway, one day they were up and replaced by an outside security agency who were all guys around six and a half feet tall and built like walls. That’s right, we got our very own flatheads.
These people were an extreme annoyance. Every time you enter the building they would want to see your proposk. And they wouldn’t let your friends in the building after 11 pm even if they lived in another section of the building. This was simply unacceptable.
One day I had a bunch of laundry, and I put it in my suitcase because my pillowcase was too small. Well this dunderhead decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to leave with my suitcase because I didn’t get some document saying this was ok. I was talking my freaking laundry to another section of the building so I could do it.
He decided to try to physically restrain me from doing my laundry when I was still explaining that I needed to do my laundry to him. This was his mistake, because the moment he put his hands on me I wasn’t going to listen to another iota of the excrement spewing from his mouth. I’d had it with stupid soviet bullshit, so I demonstrated that holding me in one place was not so easy by dragging him 100 yards out into the courtyard while I continued to hold onto my suitcase. Out there he let go, looked extremely awkward and walked back inside.
On a separate occasion another guard decided my proposk wasn’t any good and I couldn’t come into the place in which I dwell, so I grabbed it from him, and started walking up the stairs, he grabbed me and I proceeded to throw him on the ground with the arm he had grabbed hold of and I continued up the Stairs.
I never had any more problems with the guards and they never asked for my proposk again.
Getting my exit visa; Soviet Bullshit part II
Some countries require a visa to enter them, some do not. Russia requires a visa to exit. If you come in on a student visa, and I advice highly against it, you will be required to obtain a visa to leave.
At MGU they say they will take 2 weeks to process your exit visa. I gave them my passport one month before I needed it back to get a Chinese visa and train tickets for China (you need your passport to do anything). So they had it for one month. I came at the pre-appointed time to retrieve my passport and accompanying exit visa, but guess what. They had done absolutely nothing, zip, zill, nada. Could they hurry it up and get it back to me in a day or 2 because they fucked up?
No. In fact, it was now going to take them another month, not even the 2 weeks they advertise. In fact they wouldn’t have my exit visa for me until after it expired. This information didn’t seem very important to them. However this problem could very easily cost me more than 500 dollars if left unresolved.
Why couldn’t they hurry it up? Well the answer is simple. You see the person I was required to turn my passport into does absolutely nothing with it, they just carry it to another person in the main building of the university (actually their assistant carries it). This person doesn’t do much either, and when you talk to them about speeding up the process they just tell you it’s not there fault. Do I care whose fault it is? I already know whose fault it is. It’s the communist’s fault for creating your stupid job to begin with, that’s who’s fault it is.
Not only are they not willing to help one iota, this lady is probably the rudest person I have met. How dare I politely ask her to rush my exit visa!
I then went from office to office through about 500 levels of their worthless chain of command, telling people my dilemma, and then very often in a very loud voice, but not shouting, instructing them to fix my problem. I discovered long ago that these bureaucratic people very often have no idea who is actually in charge and have a great difficulty making decisions, and the only way to get anything done is to pretend you are their boss. So I yelled at quite a few people in the university administration, or more accurately, told them in no uncertain terms, to correct this problem.
My completed visa was delivered to my room the following morning. Evidently it was possible.
Soviet Bullshit part III:
Very few people have a clue on how to run a business in Russia. In every enterprise there is always someone, and usually many someone’s whose job it is to stand around and do absolutely nothing. At the store there is someone who cashes out your purchase, and there is quite often another someone whose job it is to hand you your food, and then of course someone to stand by the door like the bouncer in a night club.
Even new businesses like café max, the internet café I frequent are full of worthless people. I am very confident if I were to work there I could replace easily 15 people working there. Even given low wages in Russia, and the higher wage I would demand they would still save a lot of money.
This kind of stuff doesn’t get me angry, but I do not accept it either. When something goes wrong with my computer, which happens often, I fix it myself despite the worthless bouncer guys telling me not too.
Lastly on soviet bullshit (but not leastly) is the purchase of my train ticket. I naturally had to wait in line to get my ticket at a ticket counter. 5 people were ahead of me in line. How long might one think I would be waiting in said line? 10 minutes? No, 2 and a half hours. Each person needs a half an hour of their own at the ticket counter to purchase their one ticket for some reason beyond my comprehension. This was true of the other lines in the train station as well. When it came to be my turn it took me less than one minute to show my passport, pay money and have her issue me the ticket.
If God were merciful Russians’ lives would be 15% longer to make up for the time waiting in line.
James : British Belgian south African guy that eats nothing but limes all day and night
Alexei : Cyka! Russian guy that we found early enough in life so that we could mold him in our own image.
Natalie: Czech-Russian girl who goes to school in the US.
Masha: Uzbek-Russian girl who is almost as insane as me.
Nina: Russian, extremely intelligent, PhD in linguistics
J1: Guy also named Justin, he was here first, the bastard.
Cergo: My Georgian Roommate, going to bring harmony to the world in NATO.
Irina: Russian, met her at boarhouse, She works her ass off. Goes to another school in Moscow as good as MGU.
MGU: my University, the Harvard of Russia. Extremely difficult to get into, unless you have money that is, in which case it is only very difficult to get into.
Alla: Russian Mafia king-pin
2007-08-01 12:20:51 GMT