Monday, March 29, 2010


Russia: land of the never-ending Lada car alarm. Why won't it stop!?

Friday, March 26, 2010


Today I decided to go get a shaverma/shuarma for dinner (think a Muslim burrito). There's a little cluster of kiosks a few minutes walk from my apartment. I didn't have any cash, so I needed to stop by an ATM, Russia being a cash only culture. Fortunately, there happens to be one on the way to the kiosks.

So, off I went to go get cash and get dinner. I told my roommate I'd be back in five minutes. The ATM on the way? Not operational for whatever reason. Most ATM's here are non-operational every other day it seems like. Ok, so I just had to walk a little farther to find one that worked. No big deal. Went and got cash and walked over to the market area where the kiosks are and discovered the whole market was closed and everything was boarded up. As a way of explanation there was a sign: "CLOSED." 0 for 2. It probably got shut down by the police for a.) too many illegal immigrants working there; b.) too many nefarious characters about doing nefarious deeds; c.) health code violations; d.) all of the above.

I ended up just going grocery shopping and coming home to cook after about an hour.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Moscow Pt. 2

top: riding third class
middle top: Starlite Diner, take two
middle bottom: Red Square (the stuff on the left is the ice skating rink they set up in the winter)
bottom: the Cossacks playing some tough D

I went to Moscow for the second time in one week to go as a chaperone for my school's basketball team for two tournaments there. We went on the night train and it was the best I've ever slept on a Russian night train. So, I arrived well rested and ready to tackle the Starlite Dine one more time. It was a success. I ate everything. Even the garnish. And 4 cups of coffee; I don't even like coffee, that's how successful it was.

It was a sunny (!) day, so we walked down to Red Square so the boys could take some pictures and we could kill some time. We arrived and placed our bags on some steps near the ice skating rink they set up there in the winter, and the guys went off to go try and see Lenin's body. I'd already seen it, so I stayed with the bags with another teacher, John, and a sick student that just sat down and closed his eyes. I was talking with John and he kept saying how it was only a matter of time until a policeman came up and told us to move our stuff. Why? Because it's Russia. Soon a policeman strolled over and told us we could sit there with our stuff, but nobody could sleep. So, our sick kid opened his eyes and that seemed to satisfy him, so he continued on his way. The rest of our group came back and everyone was just hanging out and John came up to me and said, "Look how many Koreans are in our group [Russian police are extremely racist], look at what a good time the kids are having. Russians can't stand us. We're gonna see another policeman."

Sure enough, two policemen immediately made their way over to us and told us, very politely, that we needed to go to wherever it was we were going and clear out. So, we got kicked out of Red Square. How many other people can say that? Later on that same day, we had to wait in the metro for our host families to come pick us up and a policeman came and told us our group was too big and we had to disperse. Again, this is largely due to the fact of the large number of Korean boys we have on our team and racist police.

Jared and I ended up staying with a host family from the Moscow Christian school as well. We really lucked out because it was a business family. Their apartment is the nicest one I've seen in Russia, their Filipina helper cooked us incredible meals, and their driver took us to all of our games. No public transport for us. It was nice to live la dolce vita, if only for a few days.

The boys played six games and ended up winning two of them, thus making it the most successful season in IA Cossacks basketball history. So, we headed back to St. Pete on another night train. This trip back was not as restful for me for a number of reasons:
1) the really talkative, slightly drunk Ukranian guy that wanted to chat
2)the two Russian guys that wouldn't chat with him and forced him to talk to me
3) the two girlfriends of the Russian guys that were very loud all night and sat on my bunk while I was trying to sleep
4) the heat didn't work in our car, which meant it was about 32 degrees F the whole night.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Moscow Pt. 1

I went to Moscow at the end of February to take the Foreign Service Officer exam. Elizabeth went with me and we tried to purchase tickets next to each other on the overnight train, and we did... sort of. We were next to each other but she was on the other side of a wall. In my section of the train, there was a girl that did not shut up the whole night, and I didn't sleep very well.

We got into Moscow pretty early on Saturday morning and we took the metro to the city center to Starlite Diner, a place done up like an American diner and offering the same fare. Out of all the food from back home that I miss, Mexican and diner food top the list. And since someone here will make Mexican food periodically, my desire for diner food went unfulfilled until this trip to Moscow. The tragedy was that I was so keyed up for my test later that day that I didn't have much of an appetite. After breakfast, we went down to Red Square and took some pictures. This was an important day for me, because it was the first time I gave lip to Russian police. The circumstances are difficult to explain, but, basically, I wanted to walk past a barricade and they wouldn't let me. We went into Lenin's tomb and the whole thing was just bizarre. It's set up in a way that your supposed to feel reverential and worshipful, but the whole thing is just a ridiculous spectacle. Lenin himself is in pretty poor shape, due to the incompetency of the embalmers, and so he's probably nothing more than a glorified wax candle at this point. Also, along this side of the Kremlin, many foreign Communists (John Reed, for example) and notable citizens (Stalin, Dzerzhinksy, Gagarin) are buried in and under the wall.

We then made our way to the US Embassy where I took the test. Elizabeth went to Arbat Street (where there is a Starbucks) to wait for me to finish. I think I did really well on the test. I think. We'll find out in about a month, but for right now, I think I passed it. After the test, I had this huge weight lifted off of me; up until that point, I had no idea I was that nervous about it. I then made my way over to Arbat Street and met with Elizabeth and a friend of hers from college who is living in Moscow. We spent the evening hanging out with other Americans who were there teaching English and then got back on another night train and got back to St. Petersburg early Sunday morning.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This country's going to the dogs...

I went to Moscow last weekend to take the FSO exam. I'll write more about that and post a few pictures, but I'm actually headed out the door (to Moscow again, as it happens, as a chaperone for the basketball team's tournament there). Before I do, however, I needed to share two things:

First, I have a 15 year old Korean student that, up until two weeks ago, had never pet a dog in his life. My friend Jared had to teach him how to do it, as he was poking it with 4 fingers and thought that he was petting it.

Second, about a month ago, my friend John went to go the post office to pick up a Christmas package from his in-laws for his family. The longer you live here in Russia, the more terrible post office stories you have. There is a special hatred for the post office that most expats carry around with them here, and for good reason. While there, they were incredibly rude to him; at one point while he was trying to ask a question, a lady shouted at him to "stop his jaw," which is the Russian version of "shut up." The reason he was asking a question was because he received a slip saying he need to pick up a package, but when he arrived they curtly told him his paperwork wasn't right and it wasn't ready. He went back yesterday because he received another slip. So, he went and picked it up, somewhat surprised at how light this 9 kilogram package was. He got home to discover the post office workers had picked through everything, mainly the Christmas cookies (who steals month old Christmas cookies? bizarre) and the packages of chap stick (which is impossible to get here). The reason why his package wasn't ready the first time was because they hadn't picked through it yet. So, basically, they shouted and were rude to him because he disturbed them while they were in the process of robbing him. That made me laugh so hard this morning I'm not sure it was good for me.