20th affair anniversary

well, here we are. 20 years to the day that tamara confessed to me she was having an affair. so much has happened since then. fortunately, i haven’t had to deal with or think about tamara for a long time. nor with this blog. haha! i’ve had a lot of other bad stuff happen in my life (and a lot of good too!), but her actions and choices during that time show up near or at the top of sh!t when i look over my life. not that what she did was the most painful thing, or the worst even — though it was supremely difficult to process and get through at the time. no, it gets high billing because it wasn’t the universe acting, or random chance — it was a person i had brought close to me, that i had loved and trusted, making a choice, then choice after choice, to fsck me over and not be fair with me, mostly due to selfishness. i really thought she had good character. i was wrong. and i paid the price, both financially and emotionally. and this blog exists because i wanted a place to process and share what i was going through. and now it is a time capsule of a very painful event in my life, and how i (mostly poorly) dealt with it.

russia: day 7

when i got up this morning, svetlana had left me a note about breakfast, letting me know that everything on the table was for me to eat. and a separate note on the bag of instant coffee letting me know that was for me too. usually i just fix a cup of tea and eat some of what she sets out, then i put the rest back in the fridge. generally she has made a bowl of some kind of grain – oatmeal, millet, rice, etc. – and also provides stuff for “butter bread” – which is some white bread, cheese, and cold cuts.
i took the metro over to the island the school is on. this was the first day of class in the other building. i had walked down the street a day or two before, just so i’d have some idea of how far it was, what the street looked, etc. except of course with the numbering conventions they use, i wasn’t sure which building it actually was. they had said it was a yellow building, but there were several of those on the same side of the street. when i got to the street, i sort of walked along trying to figure out for sure which building was number 7, but i couldn’t tell. i tried a door at one building, but it didn’t open. i finally walked over to another building and entered a door and said i had class there, and she asked if i was a student then let me through the turnstile. (this place loves turnstiles.) i noted that the entrance to the building has two fairly distinctive features: it’s right next to an entrance for cars that has a red and white gate/bar for vehicles; and – more distinctly – there is a big clock over the door that sticks out so you can see it coming from either direction. it would have been a pretty nice marker for them to have given. but oh well, now i knew.
i hadn’t done my homework from the previous day, so i went into a small sitting area in the courtyard space and did my homework. there is a monument there that i suppose is related to world war ii, as it has 1941-1945 on it. there was originally some metal letters higher up, but they have been removed. but you can still see where they were due to the weathering. there are a couple of letters that you can’t tell for sure, so i haven’t tried to see what it said. once done, i went upstairs and had my second class here. i like dennis’s style. he jokes, and tries to get people to converse and tell stories. it makes speaking have a purpose other than just reading exercises and finishing the sentences or changing the verb tense or whatever. (although he does that as well.)
after the class, mike and shant and i decided we were going to go get something to eat, and then have a drink or something. we walked around and discussed different options, but shant was pretty interested in going to mcdonald’s. i wasn’t too excited about it, other than seeing what a mcdonald’s is like in russia, but mike was cool with it so i reluctantly agreed to go. i got a cheeseburger, beef roll, and a large coke. there were quite a few people ordering, so a lady was going through and taking orders on a handheld device, then giving ticket numbers. when i got to the cashier, i gave her my ticket and she rang me up. once again, as in times past, she wanted exact change if possible. none of the three of us speak russian all that well, so we were all a bit unsure of the ordering and paying process. at one point the lady asked shant or mike something and they didn’t know what she said, so a guy in line said “here or to go”. we went to an upstairs seating area and ate and talked. when we got up we were trying to figure out if we were supposed to bus our own tables or not. there was a guy changing out trash bags, so mike went up to ask him and i followed. when i walked up, the guy looked at me and said (in english) “you’re from Texas?!” (he saw the Texas flag on my jacket.) i said i was and he said “i’m from san antonio!” so i told him i was from houston. i asked him what he was doing in russia, and he said his mom was russian, so they’d moved back here at some point. he was probably in his late teens or maybe early 20’s. he seemed pretty excited to meet someone here that was from Texas. i talked to him for a few minutes and then mike and shant and i took off.
we decided we would go have a beer, so we went to a place near the mcdonald’s called munhell. i figured it was maybe a german bar or something, but they didn’t have all that big of a selection of beers. we sat in the outside area. i had timmerman’s kriek. one thing i’ve noticed in places here is that most of them only have a list of a few beers, but when you go to order them they are usually out of at least one or two, or even three. what i mean is that it’s not uncommon at all. but what they are pretty much never out of is baltika 7. shant and mike and i sat and talked for an hour or two, then we went our separate ways. fortunately for me, munhell (as well as the mcdonald’s) is right by the metro station i use to get to/from school. so i got on it and went back to my part of town.
later on, i decided i was hungry so i went out for a walk to see where i wanted to go. i’ve learned that places that seem foreign to me make me more nervous. i guess because i don’t speak the language well and i’m not familiar with the food choices, so i feel like i’m going to be completely unsure of what i’m ordering or how to order it, etc. if i weren’t by myself most of the time, i’d probably feel more comfortable trying out these kinds of places – but that’s not the case. the funny thing is, even though i may end up picking some place that feels more comfortable or familiar as far as types of food or atmosphere or whatever, the food usually ends up being different somehow and no one is more likely to be able to interact with me better than anywhere else. plus i really don’t want to give up completely and go to american chain restaurants or something, where i know the menu and the food exactly. so for all these reasons, i ended up choosing a place called kino pizza. i walked in and immediately wasn’t sure if i should seat myself or if i should wait for them to seat me, etc. plus the place split in two directions, and i wasn’t sure if it was all the same place, or if i walked into the back it’d be some other place, or if that was a different kind of dining area, or what. i stood around a bit just kind of looking around and trying to figure out what to do, then a waitress walked up to me and asked me something in russian. i realized i really had no idea how to say “do i wait for you to seat me, or do i seat myself?” so i said in russian that i didn’t speak russian very well, and then started trying to ask about seating. she looked at me a bit and then asked in russian if i wanted a menu. i said da and she brought one, in english. i stood there for awhile looking at it, then some people at a table got up and left so she brought me over at sat me there. i ordered a “tropical” pizza (ham and pineapple) and a baltika 7. when she asked in russian what size and i said “pol-litr” (half liter) she seemed to smile and be impressed i knew how to order it. she brought the pizza out, which was pretty decent but nothing amazing. when i was done she came over and smiled and asked me something about the beer in russian. i understood all of it except one word, which was unfortunately the key word in the sentence. i looked at her and said in russian i didn’t understand and she asked the same question again. i just kind of smiled and looked confused. at this point her expression sort of changed from smiling to looking upset or disappointed and she turned around and walked off. i paid and left.
i tell you, interactions like that are depressing. whenever i have a successful interaction – even if it’s with basic language and some simple words and even use of hands/fingers, or even if they resort to some english words at times – it feels really good, like i’ve accomplished something and am succeeding. but when things like this happen – when they seem to not be able to understand me at all, or they look at me and seem disappointed or upset – it just really makes me feel like a failure and that i shouldn’t be here trying to interact with people.
as i’ve been writing people about this via email or sms, it really makes me think of what it must feel like to be an immigrant to a country where you don’t speak the language (either very well or at all). even if you are very intelligent, even if you were a very successful and sociable person where you were from, none of that matters. suddenly you’re afraid of being able to successfully negotiate the most basic functions of life: taking a bus, riding the subway, ordering food, going into a grocery store or convenience store. everything is fraught with the peril of knowing you might not be able to read signs somewhere and might do something wrong, or someone will question you or ask you about something and you won’t understand them. then on top of the language barrier, you are also operating in a culture that is foreign to you, so it’s possible at any point you may do something that is inappropriate or rude or incorrect to these people, stuff that everyone here knows but you don’t. when your emotions can be bolstered or crushed by whether you are successfully able to order some food or buy a ticket for the bus or subway, you’ve been reduced to pretty basic functioning. i’m trying to not do it, but i can easily understand why people would want to surround themselves by other people who speak their language, to seek out places where they can comfortably and with confidence be able to order things, buy things, have a discussion, ask questions, etc. i don’t think it’s the best thing to do, because you’re now in another place and should try to fit in there, but i can see how the fear and frustration and humiliation could be overwhelming. plus i am also living in the age of technology, where i can use my phone and computer to help me translate, talk to friends in real time on the other side of world by text, voice, or even video. it’s difficult imagining what it must have been like 150 years ago, when the only communication was by the postal service, and that took weeks or even months to be sent and get a response (if they made it at all).
when i got home, i talked with svetlana (my landlady) for some time. i talked about the ups and downs, and how it’s frustrating and depressing at times. she studied english in books, but never had chances to speak and listen in it a whole lot, so she understands from that perspective where i’m coming from. i found out that her family is originally korean. during world war 2, when russia and japan were on opposite sides, korea was sort of in the middle so a lot of koreans moved from korean more inland into other russian territories. her grandmother, as a young girl, was one of these people. svetlana grew up there (i forget which place), then moved to saint petersburg when she was 16 to study medicine and economics here. a boy she knew from there went to moscow to study geology. years later they got married, and they had a boy and a girl. about 6 or 7 years ago, he passed away from liver (i think) cancer. her children still live in saint petersburg. the rest of her family lives in moscow. she decided to rent out the two bedrooms in her apartment because she recently needed to buy a new car, and the payments are very high. (she had an older car, but her husband used to fix it, and after he passed away she had no idea how to work on it, and it was very expensive to repair it all the time.) at some point recently she met a man from finland, and he’s coming here a day or two after i leave, and they are going to meet her family in moscow, and it’s possible they will get married. she is hoping to travel, because she doesn’t see how she can really afford to live here by herself on her pension money. she’ll be able to retire in about two years (in russia, retirement age for women is 55).

russia: day 6

so far, even though i’d managed to sleep at night, i don’t really get quality sleep, and i pretty much always feel like i’m somewhat tired. not that i’m falling asleep during the day or can’t keep my eyes open or anything, just out of sorts. maybe that’s jet lag. i don’t know. anyway, i got up and went and ate my breakfast. while i was eating breakfast, the russian girl roommate came in and we talked for awhile. her name is julia, she’s from south russia, and is going to some college here, i think in economics or something. her english is fair, but like with my landlady, there are a lot of words she doesn’t know. unfortunately there are even more russian words that i don’t know, so a fair bit of the conversation has to be in english.
i took the metro (subway) over to the island the school is on, then walked from the station to the school. as usual, at the entrance i had to explain to the person there that i was there for class, then go through the turnstile. while i was waiting near the room, i decided to have another drink from the coffee vending machine. i’m not sure exactly what i ordered this time, as there were some words i didn’t understand on the choice – but it was coffee-related. some people started showing up and standing around. the way these lessons work, anyone can come any week and start – it’s not a fixed semester or five-week course or anything. of course, usually you get registered and take your test on monday, then start classes on tuesday. because i’d arrived late monday, i had to take my test tuesday and thus couldn’t start my classes until wednesday. so these people appeared to already know each other. the teacher arrived and decided the class room was too small for the number of people, so then we went on a rabbit hunt to find a new room. eventually we found one, she went and left a note on the old room, and we started.
it turned out there was one other student was also starting the same day as me instead of the day before – his name was shant. in all, there were 7 students in the class: me; a girl named heidi from england (manchester); a guy named mike from new jersey; a guy named shant from turkey (istanbul); a guy named vincenzio (maybe?) who is originally from italy but now lives in ireland (dublin); a guy from japan (tokyo) named shinsaku (sp?); and a guy from china (beijing) named shao wei (maybe?). (i don’t really know how to write some of the names. sorry. hearing names foreign to me said with russian accents means i have almost no idea what they should be. i thought heidi’s name was katie for a couple of days.) the other students had books they’d bought, so the teacher – whose name is olga – went and got some for me and shant (the other student who started a day late) to borrow until we bought our own. during our first break, i went and bought a set of books for myself.
during this first class, olga mentioned something about class with dennis. (olga teaches tuesday and wednesday, dennis on thursday and friday.) she said something about not having class on friday, so there would be his class today after this class. during the class, mike (from new jersey) – who was sitting in the row in front of me – turned around and asked where i was from, and i said Texas. he then turned to heidi, who was sitting next to him, and said “see? i was right.”
as for the classes, as far as the grammar stuff it’s really stuff i’ve already covered, but so much of what i’ve already learned isn’t really solid in my head, i think it’s good to be going over it a lot more. in addition, they use a fair number of words that i’ve not used much or at all, so it’s good to learn these new words and try to get other ones i should know more stuck in my head. olga is a fairly straight forward teacher, while dennis is more casual and likes to have conversations, tell anecdotes, and try to get people to converse in russian instead of just answer questions in the book. neither of them speak english excellently, but they both speak it well enough to communicate ideas and most of the time understand the questions we are asking in english. because we are from so many different places, the default language in the class is english if we don’t know in russian. everyone speaks english fairly well to fluently.
after dennis’s class, i asked him if this was to replace the coming friday class or the past one. he said it was because they didn’t have class the past friday, so this was sort of like a free extra one for me. i figured i didn’t get to go to tuesday’s class, so it made up for that.
once class was done, i was kind of hoping that people went somewhere and did stuff: walk around; go eat; go have coffee or beer or whatever and talk; etc. but it seemed that everyone was sort of bailing off in their own directions. mike (from new jersey) said he needed to go to a prodykti store, so i asked him if he minded if i tagged along just to let me see what it was like. he said that was fine. he’d been taking the trolleybuses, so going with him also gave me a chance to see how the trolleybuses worked. i’d read some stuff that made them sound sort of intimidating. that they could be packed, people could be pushy, the people taking money could be mean about exact change, etc. i also didn’t know who you paid, where you paid, how you paid, etc. it was during a busy time of day, so traffic was backed up and lots of people were riding the buses, so we missed one or two buses. the next one we kind of forced our way onto (it’s not as bad as it sounds, but it was pretty full and i was right by the door closing and opening). i had exactly 21 rubles, because mike had told me that was how much it costs. a little after the bus started moving, a lady with a handheld scanner came around and was taking money and/or scanning cards if people had them. i gave her the 21 rubles and she gave me a ticket. that wasn’t too bad. we took the bus across the island, and it was pretty packed the whole time. at one point an old women got on carrying a chair. talk about taking up space. we got off near where he’s staying, and he had a map his host family had drawn to show where a larger prodykti store was (maybe even a super market).
we walked in that direction, but weren’t sure which it was. i guess probably like new york or other older cities that are fairly compact and urban, there are tons of little shops all over the place on the first floors of buildings and in the basements (with stairs from the street going down into them). plus the addressing system seems a bit odd. you know the street and the building number in the address, but a lot of times that’s all you get. well, the building could be one or two full city blocks, with stores at the ground level, below ground level, and maybe even the second floor. in addition to that, most buildings have courtyards in the middle, and many times there are shops on the inside parts of the buildings too. so even if you know the address of the business, you may still have to walk all around to try and find it. so, we looked around. at one point we saw a prodykti sign and a listing of things – sausage, fruits, vegetables, etc. – in front of a door. we walked in and there was a little room about the size of a small walk-in closet, with some sodas, beer, and cigarettes, and not much else. but there were also stairs going up beside it. so mike started going up the stairs with me following, but at the top of the stairs it looked like a very small space selling women’s clothes or something. we turned around and went back outside. the next building was still being built though, so we headed back. up the stairs again, but this time mike went further and saw that the place upstairs was just a table or two set up in a hall/entrance area, and there was a door that opened into a store with groceries.
we walked in, and it appeared to be only partially leased out. that’s another thing about businesses here: it seems like there is rarely one building with one business. they split up space and sub-lease to different people. so when you go into a store – grocery store, whatever – you may end up paying different people for different things, because they’re actually different people’s businesses. such appeared to be the case here. one area had nothing but vegetables. one place had meat, fruit juices, pet food, condiments, cheeses, etc. another had baby and child stuff. and another had dried fruits and nuts. mike bought some sausage, and i bought a big box of apple juice. then we walked over to the fruit/nuts lady. neither of us were really sure what any of the signs said, or how we were supposed to do it, but we decided maybe we weren’t supposed to get them ourselves. while we were looking at stuff and thinking, one or two other people came up and got stuff. finally, mike got some cashews. then i said i wanted some cashews (although mine were some other kind…i think maybe the ones he got were plain, and the ones i got were roasted), some almonds (also roasted, i think), and…well, basically they appeared to be corn nuts. no one there had bread, so we walked back near mike’s apartment to a prodykti store he’d been in before and he bought some bread. i waited outside, because i didn’t want them to think i was stealing the apple juice or something. while waiting, i tried the corn nuts. they were. when mike came out i asked him if he wanted some corn nuts, and he said he’d never had any. he tried them and thought they were excellent. mike headed back to his apartment, and i went and – fear now gone – got on a trolleybus. i paid the lady the 21 rubles and road it all the way back to my side of town. this one was way less crowded…sparse, almost.
having had a successful outing, especially after having such a disastrous tuesday, when i got to my part of town i decided to go into a store and buy a bottle of water for home. i walked into a produkti store near me. inside it was a fairly small room, with some refrigerated glass displays for meat, fish, cheeses, milk, etc. but not much else. i looked arond for a bit, looking on the very few shelves on the walls behind one or two of the displays, but it looked like fruit juices and maybe jam/preserves or something. then i noticed a doorway in the back that appeared to go into another space. i walked back into there and it was a smaller room with fruits, drinks, and some other stuff. the water was on shelves behind a counter that a lady was standing at. i went up and asked for a bottle of water without gas (if you just buy bottled water here, you’ll get sparkling (carbonated) water unless you specify otherwise). i bought a 2 liter bottle of water, and paid her for it. i then walked back out through the other part of the shop with my water and out onto the street.
one note of interest: i have seen way fewer politsya/militsya here in st. petersburg than i saw in moscow. they seemed like they were all over the place there. while i was talking to someone about this, they said it was probably because they have been having protests in moscow over putin winning the election, so they were probably out and about in central areas trying to make sure nothing was getting out of hand or whatever. i guess that makes sense. i guess it’s also possible the government might consider the kremlin and similar spots in moscow to be more likely targets for any kinds of attacks and/or protests.

russia: day 5

today i got up (again somewhat late), and knew better what to do about breakfast. although i still didn’t eat most of it. i took another hot/cold shower and got dressed. since i’d taken the metro the day before, i wasn’t too concerned about not knowing what to do. i still had metro tokens from the previous day, so i used one of those and took the green line to the station nearest the school. i got to the school and went to the administrative offices to show them i paid everything, and they told me to go to the room for the grammar test.
i got to the room for the grammar test and the door was shut. almost everything on and around the door was in russian. i tried the door and it was locked. i then noticed a post it note on the door that appeared to say in russian they were on a 15 minute break. of course, it was 3pm and it appeared the sign with info by the door said the office was only open until 4pm. i decided to buy something from an automated coffee vending machine. i got a hot chocolate (i knew the words for chocolate, espresso, coffee, etc – so i had a general idea of what i was getting). a few minutes later a lady came up and started waiting, then a few minutes later a guy came up and was waiting. and we waited. i could hear people doing stuff inside the room every now and then. and we waited. it’d been probably 30 minutes. the guy had gotten frustrated long ago, so he finally went up and started knocking on the door. a lady came and opened it, they said some stuff, then the lady who’d been waiting went in. when she came out, the guy looked at me and i said “please” in russian and he went in. then i went in and tried to tell them i needed to take the grammar test. they spoke no english. she sat me down at a table and told me i needed to fill out a paper. she gave it to me and it asked (only in russian, of course) for my name, birthday, where i was from, how long i’d been studying russian, why i wanted to know russian, etc. some of these questions i had to use my iphone to translate words for because i didn’t know them. while i was filling it out, some other lady walked in, saw what i was doing, told them some stuff in russian that i think meant i didn’t need to fill out of that stuff out. they took that paper, then they gave me a sheet of paper and the test, and tried to explain to me in russian that i should write only on the answer page and not make marks on the test. and maybe something about how to make corrections, how to mark answers, etc. i could pretty much figure it out from some examples they had on the paper. i had one hour.
the test was something like 190 questions. right off the bat, everything was grammar related: knowing the cases, knowing conjugation, knowing perfective verbs versus imperfective verbs, etc. mostly sentences with multiple choice answers for parts of the sentence. unfortunately, it was also with tons of words i didn’t know. i scanned through the rest of the test – pretty much more of the same. so finally i just started guessing. i got through about 90 questions i think before they said my time was up. they graded my test, handed me a slip of paper (i got a 39% or something, but i have no idea how they calculated any of it), and told me to go upstairs to a different room to get my class assignment.
i went upstairs and walked into a room and there were a few people in there, all women talking to each other. i stood around awhile, but none of them reacted to my being there. finally one of them – the one i’d talked with in english the first day – asked me to please sit down. i gave my slip of paper to one of the other ladies and she started rattling off some russian to me. there were too many words that i didn’t know, and she was talking really fast (although i’m sure normal speed if you understand the language). i could answer a bit but not much, mostly i just looked confused and didn’t know what to say. finally another lady said something to her and then looked at me and said “kak vas zavot?” very slowly. i said “terry”. she said “otkyda vyi?” so i haltingly said “ya iz america”. so then she said something like “gdey vyi pre-echali?” …except i didn’t know what “pre-echali” meant. i figured it was related to “exat” which is “to go/travel by vehicle”, but i didn’t remember if it meant “came from” or “arrived at” or what. then she started making an airplane with her hand, flying it and saying “samaleot” and landing it. so finally i said “v moskve” because i flew into moscow. this seemed to disappoint her, so she gave up. they talked a bit in russian and then the first lady that was asking the questions gave me my class assignment. the printout was in russian. she started explaining things…in english. classes were tuesday-friday. tuesday and wednesday were in this same building, thursday and friday were in a different building several blocks away. she wrote down the names of the days in english next to the russian names. my first class would be tomorrow.
that whole experience really deflated me. it made me feel entirely stupid, and like i was an utter failure. first i got a grammar test that started off more complex than some of my understanding, and with lots of verbs and words that i didn’t know; then i went into the office and they felt like they couldn’t talk to me, so they resorted to the most basic first questions/statements anyone learns, and i even failed that at the third question they asked; then she felt like with me she needed to write the names of the days of the week in english by the russian ones. it was humiliating, frustrating, and utterly depressing. i walked out of the building thinking “what the fsck am i doing? why am i even here? they felt i was so incompetent they resorted to baby questions, and then wrote the english days of the week on the paper. they probably put me in the class for ‘slow’ people.” man, i was really down. i mean, i knew my russian was weak, and that was part of the reason i wanted to come here (beyond just experiencing “living” in russia for awhile) – but i felt totally incompetent. like i had failed to meet even the fairly low expectations for my russian language skills i’d had for myself. it sucked.
because i was feeling so down, i decided to just walk instead of take the metro or anything. since i was walking, i went ahead and took some pictures of things along the way i walked. i may be feeling like a failure, but it’s no reason to not take some pictures. i walked back to my apartment building, and since i was feeling like a failure in russia i went ahead and went back to the “british” pub. i ordered a guiness, then shepherd’s pie, then i followed those up with a timmerman’s kriek. then i headed up to the apartment.

russia: day 4

i got up fairly late on monday, and there was some food on the table. (some kind of porridge, some bread, some cold cuts, cheese, and cup with a tea bag in it.) i wasn’t sure if it was all mine or if i was sharing it with the other roommate or what. so i ate some of it, then put the dishes i’d used in the sink. i then went to take a shower.
now, i should note there is a bathtub, a nice one, with jets and everything. but there is a metal tube coming off the water line that is maybe 3 feet long that goes to a hand-held shower head, and there is a mount on the wall about a foot or so above the water spout. (it’s the same kind of thing people have in the u.s. in their showers, but usually the hose is connected at a water line around head level, and the shower head rests in a mount at around that same level. this is about at the thigh to waist level.) and there is no glass doors or curtain or anything. so, in my mind, “shower” is an approximation to describe what this is. it’s a bathtub with a shower nozzle. or, perhaps better described, it’s a shower for gnomes. but, okay, i can make due. except once i got it started, i could not get any control over the water temperature. it was either scalding hot or ice cold, and sometimes all you could get was ice cold no matter what location you turned the water handle. so i tried to do the best i could, jumping into and out of the alternatively scalding hot and icy cold water stream. but i got it done.
i once again was not sure about how one goes about taking a bus here, so i walked all the way to the school. (it’s a few kilometers.) i stopped at a citibank on nevsky and used one of their atms. it let me withdraw up to 15,000 rubles at a time (~$500), so i did that twice. i went ahead and took a path that led me past the other deutsche bank location, but as i’d expected, i didn’t see any atm or bank building.
around 4pm i got to the school building and there was a person at a turnstile. i tried telling them i was registered for russian lessons, and after a bit they told me which office to go to.
i went to the office and tried to talk, but those people didn’t speak much english i guess. they got a different girl to come and help me. she spoke english. i told her what i needed to do, and she said she’d help me. she had me fill out a form or two, sign some things, photocopied my passport, etc. we talked about a bunch of different stuff: traveling, being in a country where you don’t speak the language very well, etc. (she’d travelled in europe and the u.s.) she said she thought i seemed nervous or unsure about things, but was doing okay. she said she’d had some girls break down crying at her desk because they were so overwhelmed (culture shock). she gave me two different papers and told me i had to pay two different bills, due to bureaucracy. the papers were basically deposit slips, so i would need to go to any cberbank and make the deposits. and i needed to now go to a different office and pay for some other stuff there. normally i would also take the grammar test, but it was too late in the day and the testing office was closed, so i’d need to do it the next day.
i went down a floor and to the other office, where i paid for the student invitation and them express mailing it to me. i then left and walked to a cberbank location the lady had told me they use all the time, so the cashiers would be familiar with students doing this. (there are cberbanks all over the place here.)
when i got to the bank, it was down some stairs, and consisted of a very small and narrow waiting area with about 6 or 7 cashier windows and an atm or two. there were some people in line, some people maybe in some other lines…or not, and some people who appeared to just be sitting around. i couldn’t really tell what any of the cashier windows said, i couldn’t really ask anyone what they were in line for, so i just sort of cut through and waited behind the line at a cashier window. no one yelled at me. after awhile i thought maybe i was at the wrong kind of window, so i moved to another, following a girl that was walking up to the window. as soon as she got to the window and started to say something, the lady slammed up a sign at the opening and walked off. guess it was her lunch break, or the end of her shift, or she just wasn’t feeling it – i don’t know. i decided to go back to the window i’d come from. i guess the atm broke, so then other people were waiting to use the cashiers. at one point a lady walked up, and i thought a guy was about to punch her, as he started yelling “hey! lady!” in russian and then i think yelling about how the atm is broken and she needs to get in line, not just walk up where ever. i was hoping at that point i wouldn’t be yelled at next, even though i was pretty sure i’d been in there longer than most of the people who now appeared to be in line. eventually the cashier i was standing in front of opened up, so i walked up, gave her the papers, she did stuff with them, then told me the amount i needed to deposit. i asked her to write it down, she smiled and did. i gave her the money, she did some more paperwork, handed me receipts, and i was done. i guess it was the right line.
so at this point i was now done for the day. i started walking, and ended up walking a different way than i’d intended, so i decided to cross a bridge to another island and walk by the stadium for the st petersburg zenit (zenith) football (soccer) team. i then went into a metro station. this was the first time i’d been in a metro station in st. petersburg, and i figured it’d have the same system as moscow. nope. the automated ticket machine wasn’t nearly as obvious about purchasing one or two trip tickets. i also had an odd amount of coins, so i couldn’t just get one trip with coins. i had a small 50 coin that i put it, but it wouldn’t take it. i couldn’t figure out why. i eventually saw a machine that said it took 100 rubles and gave back 4 something. i saw someone else use it, so i figured it maybe gave change. i put in a 100 ruble note and it gave me 4 coins. i looked at them and they were actually metal subway tokens. so that worked out okay. (i also later realized the 50 coin i had was 50 kopecks, which is 1/2 ruble. at 30:1$, 50 kopeck is worth about 1.5 cents. most places i go they don’t even put kopecks in prices, only rubles. i got on the metro, which was the purple line, took it to the blue line, then the blue line to the green line, and then got off at mayakovskaya near my house.
i walked over to an mts store near moskovskiy train station, thinking someone might speak english there. nope. however, i was able to explain what i wanted (a micro sim card with calling, texting, and internet), make sure it was right, verify the price, get a pin for the microsim slot to change out sim cards, pay, and say thanks – a successful transaction. i was pretty happy with myself. i then walked back to my apartment.
well, i meant to, but i walked too far. so i turned around. i hadn’t had anything to eat or drink at this point since breakfast, so i decided i would reward myself (and chicken out from going into any of the scarier / more ethnic looking places) by going to the “bulldog pub” – a “british” pub in the corner of the bottom floor of the building my apartment is in. i walked in and sat down at the bar and looked at the taps…young’s double chocolate stout, guiness, a kriek (thought it was lindemann’s, but turns out it’s timmerman’s) – i could like this place. of course, the bartender spoke zero english. i ordered a young’s double chocolate stout and just sat. i decided to ask if they also had food, or only beer and alcohol. he brought me a menu in english, and i picked out a plate with 3 different sausages with some hot mustard and spicy tomato sauce. he had to compare what i wanted to the russian menu so he knew what to order for me. they were delicious. then i had a timermann’s kriek (a cherry lambic) to finish it off. i was pretty happy with my choices.
i got back to the apartment, and i paid the landlady all of the money i owed her for room and board for the upcoming four weeks. the landlady asked me to please take a shower every day. (she later told me her and the other student – a russian girl – like a clean, nice smelling place, and the girl had said i’d kind of smelled when i showed up the previous evening.) of course, she also talked to me about what to do with my shoes, to wash my hands every time i come in from outside because of all the germs on the street, to spray some air spray every time i use the bathroom, to put the food back in the fridge if i’m not going to eat it all (i explained i didn’t know if it was all mine, or for the girl too), that i need to figure out something to do about my laundry because they don’t want it smelling up the place, etc. so she’s maybe a little ocd (like, in my experience, a lot of asian people (and ash) are …i’m guessing it’s cultural (except with ash…he’s just odd)).
in other news: to return a train ticket for a full refund (minus a small fee) you have to do it before the departure time, then the refund amount decreases until at 12 hours afterward you can’t get anything. i didn’t take care of it, so that money is gone. oh well.

russia: day 3

as with the first night, i was in bed for a decent amount of time, but my sleep wasn’t very deep and i woke up quite a bit. because there was still no hot water, i decided to skip the shower in the morning. of course, i also i got up a little later than i’d planned. my train was leaving for st petersburg at 1:45pm, and i originally was hoping to get there a couple of hours early.
a week or two earlier, in houston, i’d bought the train ticket online, on a russian-only site – rzd.ru – because it was cheaper to buy it directly than through sites that were in english but charge a commission. i had created an account on the site, then i was concerned about filling out everything correctly and i forgot russian calendars start on monday. so when i picked the day on the calendar, i accidentally bought a ticket for monday instead of sunday. it was until about 10 minutes later when i was emailing the school in st. petersburg my info that i realized my mistake. unfortunately, on the rzd site you can’t change or cancel a ticket once you’ve bought it. you have to buy another, then get a refund in person. so i had to buy a second ticket for the right date. the tickets were about $78 each. you can also choose to print a ticket at the station or do an electronic ticket – if you do an electronic ticket, you just show your passport. although not having a physical ticket seemed a bit risky, i thought just having to show my passport would be nice if it worked, so i chose electronic ticket format. but to return a ticket, you can’t have it as electronic. you have to print the ticket, and take it to the return booth. also, if it’s electronic then it’s no good as soon as the time for the ride passes, even if you didn’t use it. if it’s a physical ticket, then you can return it for a refund later if you didn’t use it (at least that’s what the site said). this ticket was for a day express train, seats only (no sleeping compartments), which takes about 4 hours instead of the standard train’s 8 hours.
anyway, i got up and had some breakfast, thanked olga, gave her the keys back, and took off. i went into the metro and bought a one-trip ticket, then took the purple line to the red line, then the red line out to komsomolskaya station. i got out there and ended up in a courtyard area.
there were “ржд” booths, but i didn’t need to print a ticket. i also dropped my shades at some point, so a guy came up and gave them to me. i got out my receipt with ticket info i’d printed out, and started trying to figure out where to go. i looked at some big train schedule boards, but none of them had the train number i was looking for. i walked over to some other stations, but i couldn’t figure anything out. i’d left later than i’d hoped, so at this point i had about an hour. i started getting nervous, and i immediately decided i wasn’t going to try and take the time and effort to return the extra ticket right now…i’d be happy just to not miss the train. i walked further: more schedules, nothing that matched. finally i got out my phone and hit google maps. at this location there are actually three train stations. with the map, i could tell where i was, and could see the station i wanted was around a corner from where i’d originally walked in, but i couldn’t see it. so i walked back that way. (again: thank goodness for google maps and gps.) at this point, a lady walked by me, and in russian told me my jacket (which i had through the handles in my weekend bag) was dragging the ground. *sigh* i thanked her and pulled it up.
i walked into an area and a guy was there helping people. i showed him my receipt number, to see if i put the code up to the turnstiles he was at and he looked at it and said “st. petersburg?” i said “da” and he said in russian, and pointing, to go that way and to the left. so i walked that way. i still couldn’t see signs or trip numbers to help me. i walked by a really long line, wondering if maybe that was a line i should be in, but cut through it and into a big station area. i walked through some kind of detector (i’ve noticed a few times i appear to set things off, but no one reacts or stops me…or anyone else i have seen), and on. but i could tell it went down and then out onto the street. i finally saw a sign with my train number on it and which gate i should go to, but i saw no gates or anything. i decided to walk back to the big line. i walked back through and walked up the line, then i could see there were two entrance doors for platforms 1 and 2, and my train was leaving on platform 1. at this point i had about 30 minutes. i got in the line. it took maybe 20 minutes or so to get to the door, where there was an x-ray scanner i had to put my bags through. i picked them up and walked to the train. i made it! or so i thought…
my seat was in car 7. the cars started from the back, so the first car i came to was 10. the door was open and someone was taking tickets in front of car 10…9…8…but the doors on 7 were closed. someone was at door 6. i stopped walking and went back. i wondered if maybe the odd numbers were boarding on the other side of the train maybe? but eventually i decided maybe the door to 8 would let you go to 7, so i went there. the guy scanned the barcode on my receipt, checked my passport, and let me on. (yea for the electronic ticket thing not failing to work for some reason!) i found my seat and sat down.
the train was very nice, new, and clean. the seat next to me was empty until right as the train was leaving, when a lady showed up and sat down. she asked me to help her put her handbag in the overhead storage space, then sat down. after a bit, we started talking. her name was sveta. she knew a little bit of english, i knew a little bit of russian. we used google translate on my phone, i used my russian-english dictionary, and we drew pictures and wrote words. it was actually nice talking with her. she lives in moscow, and was traveling to st. petersburg for one day to visit her brother. after she went back to moscow, she was going on vacation for two weeks (to spain, if i recall correctly). we got up during the middle of the ride and went to the food car and ate some food there. i had olivia salad and some apple/cranberry blini, with some apple juice, and she let me try the borscht she’d gotten. i was a little wary of it, but it actually was good. other than a pleasant conversation with someone new, the train ride was comfortable but uneventful. when we got to moscow station in st. petersburg (around 6:15pm) she walked with me to the exit and showed me the direction i should head to get to where i was staying. i thanked her, wished her a happy time in st. petersburg and vacation, and started off for my new residence.
i texted svetlana, the lady whose apartment i am staying in, to let her know i had arrived. she texted me back and gave me the gate code. although i didn’t know it because she wrote the special signs in russian words instead of typing them, part of it was flipped from what the school had told me. i walked to the apartment building, figured out for sure which gate i should be using, then had some trouble with the code. i texted her to verify the gate code i had from the school, and she resent it with russian words. i looked one up and realized the special characters were flipped, then it worked. then i walked in the gate to a courtyard area, then around a while trying to figure out which door i needed to go in. (most places here are like a collection of buildings in one location, with multiple separate entry points to the various sections, and interior courtyard areas.) i didn’t understand any of the numbering conventions. (i still have very little clue how in the world they number stuff…i think you just have to get to the general vicinity of things with an address, then search and/or ask people where it is. this goes for businesses as well, which a lot of times are very small shops that are below ground, at ground level, inside courtyard areas, inside other stores even.) i finally decided which entry door it probably was, based on the bare directions the school gave me, but it was locked. there was a keypad, but i had no idea what to do to call svetlana. about that time she opened the door and said “terry?” and i said “yes.” i entered the stairway and she said it was all the way at the top. my feet weren’t too happy, especially since i was still wearing the motorcycle boots and they had blisters from them from all the walking i’d already done in moscow. (i brought some vans sneakers, but i’d worn the boots every day so far.) we got to the top and she opened a door, which went to another door, which went into her apartment. she showed me my room and i put my bags down. the room seemed okay: maybe 10’x15′ with a decent sized window, a futon, and some ikea furniture (desk, cabinets, dresser, etc.). she brought me four or five coat hangers, and i hung a few shirts up and started putting the rest into drawers.
no one had told me when i was supposed to show up for school on monday, so i asked her if she knew. she said there wasn’t a fixed time. she gave me a set of keys and started showing me how they worked. one for my bedroom door: turn twice to lock and unlock. one for the inside door: turn two turns to lock or unlock. two keys for the outside door, but three keyholes: top one is two turns to lock or unlock; bottom two are the same key, top is a half turn, bottom is a full turn. from inside, the outside door top lock has a sliding mechanism, while the inside door has a lock that a key can’t open. all good? oh yeah, and some weird metallic disk thing (maybe with a battery?) that’s used at the main entry gate to exit, as well as to enter and exit the stairwell door. i asked when i was supposed to pay her by, and she said today. today? i was planning on doing it the next day. *sigh* she also said i could use her wi-fi, although i’d need to pay for it. (she said 150 rubles (~$5), and i said “per day?” and she said yes. which seemed crazy expensive, but i really want high-speed internet access. i later learned she meant 150 rubles for the whole time i am here, which is much more reasonable.) and i could do laundry, but it would cost 150 rubles…also about $5). (i think she did mean per load on that one. i don’t think there is a dryer, just a washing machine. and a fairly small one at that.) but i’ve also learned that russia doesn’t seem to have laundromats. or dry cleaning places either, really.
i had gotten a bank of america card so i could hopefully use atms here with no fees, but there are no bank of americas here. there are citibanks though. all others i’ve seen are russian banks. however, bank of america has an agreement with deutsche bank, so you don’t have to pay an atm fee. google showed two deutsche banks in st. petersburg, although one said it was corporate offices, so i didn’t trust that one. svetlana told me i could take auto bus 7 or 24, or trolley bus 10 or 11, but i didn’t know how much they cost, how you pay, if you need a card or have to have exact change, etc. – and had heard stories about how it can be challenging to ride them…and i don’t know hardly any russian – so i decided to just walk. i also wanted to get a new sim card, but the mtc store near me closed at 10pm, and it was just after 10pm. the deutsche bank was at least a couple of kilometers, at the opposite end of nevsky prospect. i got there and…there was no deutsche bank. just a new department store that wasn’t opened yet. damn. and every mtc store i’d seen was closed too.
it was probably around 11pm at this point, so i needed to find 24-hour atms. i walked and walked. i saw a couple, but i had no way to be sure about them, and i was nervous about getting robbed from all of these horror stories i’d been told. i kept walking until finally i was back at moscow train station. in other words, i walked all nevsky prospect and back. i must say, i saw some canals, some big official buildings, a park or two, some churches, some very impressive buildings, and lots of people. i should also note it was still light and dusk here during this time. it doesn’t get dark until very late. i then started walking toward the apartment, but i found nothing. it was after midnight now. and dark. i walked back to moscow train station, figuring i’d find something around there. i finally found a 24-hour cberbank atm station and walked to it. i didn’t care about fees anymore. i put in my card and told it i wanted 30,000 rubles (~$1,000). it balked and said it couldn’t and ended my transaction. so i put my card in again, entered my pin, and dropped the desired value to 20,000. it balked and ended the transaction. so i went to 10,000. it balked. at this pointed i noted the hundreds, or maybe thousands, of printed receipts on the ground around the machines…so maybe lots of people were unable to get money out of them. so finally instead of entering a number myself, i picked the largest value it offered: 5000 rubles. it gave me a 5000 ruble note. so i did it again. and again. and again. 4 transactions for a total of 20,000 rubles. that should be great fee-wise. and it still wasn’t as much as i needed to have. i walked back the apartment, dead tired and somewhat defeated. that was probably at least 6 kilometers in motorcycle boots with feet that already had blisters and hurt. not so good.
and by then the landlady had gone to bed, and so i didn’t end up giving her the money anyway.

russia: day 2

the bed was nice, and i slept okay, although i woke up a lot. my hope is that my long day with little sleep will help me get past any jet lag. not sure if that’ll work out or not.
i had been in contact with jim via email (an american who is working between houston and moscow, whom i know from two ways: the russian meetups, and he’s in the russian class before me at the rcc), but because i didn’t have a functioning cell number, i ended up not trying to finalize plans with him for the friday evening i arrived. i got up late, probably around noon (i think i went to sleep around 1:30am or 2am) and went to take a shower. no hot water, indeed. the water was super cold. i just did a very fast spot washing and was done. later i had some breakfast that olga provided (that’s the final “b” in “airbnb”). although i wasn’t sure what i could or couldn’t have, and i didn’t want to take stuff i shouldn’t, so i was somewhat selective. olga was working saturday (although she came back for lunch), so i set off to wander around some more.
i went back over to red square and walked around quite a bit there and sat some too. while sitting there, i came to the realization that it’s kind of crazy that i’m actually in russian, in moscow, on red square, looking at lenin’s tomb, the kremlin, st. basil’s cathedral, etc. not that tons of people don’t do it all the time, but that *i* am there.
eventually i decided to head over to arbat. i walked to a metro station that would take me there and bought a two-time ticket. at the arbat station, i got out and went up to street level, and started wandering. i started walking down arbat, although i wasn’t really sure where i was going. the original arbat is foot traffic only, but new arbat is a street with vehicles.
about halfway down arbat (not that i knew it at the time), i saw a tattoo/piercing shop so i decided to see if they had any 0 gauge plugs. the exchange was comical, since my russian was horrible and only one girl spoke a bit of english. eventually the guy understood i wanted plugs, but when he asked the size and i said 0 in russian he seemed doubtful. he measured it and said it was an 8. at that point i realized they must measure in millimeters. he pulled out a plastic box and started measuring metal tunnels, so i had to try and explain i wanted glass plugs. he said “oh, plygi?” and pulled out a different box. he measured one and put it on the counter, so i said “dva” and he found another. they were black saddle plugs with white biohazard signs. (not really my style, but i wanted something to wear other than just the stainless steel tunnels i had after losing one of my red and black glass plugs.) he showed me i could wear them with the all-black plain side showing. i said how much in russian and he pulled a calculator and showed “1000” but then said each, so total “2000”. i was thinking that was very expensive for these plugs, so i was doing the conversion in my head for awhile. (which it was…that’s like $66!) so after a bit he put 800 on the calculator. i was asking if that was each, so 1600 total, and he said no, 800 total. that’s like $27, which is still kind of expensive, but not too horrible i guess, and i wanted something in case i wanted to sort of hide the size of the holes in my ears, so i bought them. as people say, don’t take the first price, and negotiate. i hate doing that, but oh well. i probably wouldn’t find a good deal on much on arbat anyway.
at this point jim called me and asked me where i was, and i told him arbat. he said to keep walking to the end, and he’d meet me at the mcdonald’s there. at one point a young guy came up and asked me a one-word question, but i didn’t understand him. he asked if i spoke english, i said yes, and he moved on. (i later learned the word is “change?”.) i got down to the mcdonalds and waited on jim. near the end there were a bunch of russian hare krishnas playing music and giving a speech. that was kind of odd. they dispersed not long after i got there. while i was waiting, a lady came up to me and started asking me for directions in russian. i had to try and politely decline and let her know i don’t hardly even speak russian. i guess if some random younger lady is willing to come up to you and ask for directions, you don’t look completely like you don’t belong.
jim showed up with a german guy he works with, who went to college or grad school here in russia years ago, and he speaks russian very well. we walked down arbat to a shashliki place (kind of middle eastern food, i suppose). i had some beef shashliki (if i recall correctly) and a baltika 7 (beer). then we walked down new arbat to a bar/restaurant called zhiguli (link). we had some dark beer. it was pretty good. the taps all said zhiguli on them, so i assumed it was brewed by the restaurant and/or their brewery, but now i don’t know. “zhiguli” beer has an interesting history, as it’s originally from samara, was a viennese style pale lager beer, has been around forever, and was for a long time about the only beer you could get in russia. it was brewed by many different breweries in hundreds of locations with different standards. (link) for awhile, recently, i guess different groups fought over the name. recently (2009) the mosbrew brewery got license of the name, although i think the restaurant and mosbrew got control of the license together using an umbrella company (link ), and the current version of zhiguli is based on the restaurant’s recipe.
the girl at the counter was in a pissy mood for some reason. i went back to buy a second round for me and the german guy (i’m horrible with names, so i’ve forgotten it now) by myself. i said what i wanted, and then that i wanted half liters (they had 300 or 500 milliliter glasses). i knew the price, so i was pretty sure the total should be 310 rubles (155 each), but russians say numbers way faster than i can understand them, so when she said it i handed her a 500 ruble note to cover it. then she said “ rubli” and looked at me. i couldn’t understand why she’d want more, so i looked quizzically at her. she frowned, sighed, rolled her eyes, and wrote down “10” on piece of paper and showed it to me. i dug in my pocket and found a 10 ruble coin and gave it to her. she gave me back 2 100 ruble bills. (this is where i started to learn cashiers really want you to give them amounts so they can give you back only paper bills. they’ll ask you to give them whatever amount to make their change paper only. some are more pushy about this than others.)
at this point a few guys came and sat next to us and i noticed one was wearing a real madrid jacket. i mentioned it to the german guy, so he started talking to them. it turns out a soccer finals game between chelsea and bavaria was about to be played. these guys were in the military. but service is required in russia, so it doesn’t mean much about someone if they are in the military. we decided to stay and watch it, so we got another round. this time jim went and bought the beer from the pissy girl. the place started filling up, and the crowd seemed more for chelsea (a rich russian guy owns the team), but a fair number were for bavaria. this was a final, so people were into it. although i think like the rest of europe and the world, they love soccer. the group of military guys by us were split on it. one guy was really loud, and when he found out jim and i were americans, he started saying a few generic words in english and laughing, then saying he was a russian and saying well-known russian names/words and laughing.
it started getting late, so we decided to only stay through the first half. (maybe 12:30am or something?) we left and went back to the metro. jim and the german guy took a different line than me, so i walked and got on the line i needed. i don’t remember now if i took red to purple to kitai-gorod (i think that’s what i did), or if i took blue to green to orange. but i got back to olga’s place and went to bed.

russia: day 0 and 1

(so, i’ve been on my russian trip for over a week at this point. meaning from the day i left houston. but i’m trying to go back and write some stuff about my experiences each day, and i’m going to post them on the day that my experiences took place. i’m sure i’m forgetting a bunch and leaving out plenty of things, but most people won’t care much about reading this stuff anyway, so it doesn’t really matter too much i guess, does it?)
i for the most part waited until the day of the flight to do my packing. it went okay, although i spent more time during the day running errands than i’d planned (buying soap and toothpaste; buying cat food; picking up my jacket from the tailor’s – which they did an awesome job on, and it was a thousand times better than i could have ever done…awesome idea, heather; trying to buy a travel soap dish – no luck; and trying to finish up buying gifts for people here in russia). but the packing itself went okay.
heather drove me to the airport in my soul, then she took it back to my house afterward. (or at least i assume she did, i wasn’t around to verify.) traffic was jacked up on i-45 between i-10 and 610, so we took 59 instead, which was flowing well. (thanks iphone / internet access / gps / google maps! this same gratitude has come up a whole lot since then.) even though i got there an hour later than i had originally planned, it was still two hours before the flight. heather and i said our goodbyes, and i headed into the airport.
in line to check bags and register, i talked with a chinese guy who goes to uofh who was part of a group of students going to several countries in south asia. this flight was on singapore airlines, which has a non-stop from houston intercontinental to domodedova / moscow. but the flight continues on to singapore or somewhere in south asia, and it seemed like a lot of people were probably not getting off in moscow.
once through tsa (which wasn’t too bad of an experience overall), i exchanged $300 for rubles at a currency exchange booth. i think they gave me 27r:$1, which isn’t all that good, but oh well. minus their fee, i got 7900 rubles.
the flight was mostly uneventful. although with the first meal they had a choice of chicken or fish, and by the time they got to my row they had run out of chicken, so i had to eat fish. i don’t really like fish, but it was pretty good. maybe my tastes have changed some. i sat next to a brother and sister (probably in their 50’s) that were doing a few days in moscow with a personal guide, then on to helsinki or stockholm or somewhere. in the middle of the 12 hour flight, i slept maybe around 4 hours or so. while in flight i watched a few episodes of “big bang theory”, the movie hugo, the latest movie in the underworld series, and a documentary about geeks taking over popular culture that got cut off because we were getting to moscow. i might have watched some other tv show or shows, but i don’t recall them so if so they didn’t make a big impression.
once we were getting close to moscow and got low enough that we were below the clouds, i was curious to see what the land looked like. to be honest, out in the country it looked like u.s. country from high above. isolated houses and houses in small groups, mostly two stories, squares or rectangles, and most of them looked to have metal roofs. once we got closer, suddenly large groupings of apartment buildings started showing up. buildings from 7 or 8 to 20 or more stories, in groups of anywhere from a few to 5, 10, 15, or even 20 or more. most of them looked fairly old, although i saw some very new ones as well. although usually the newer ones had only 2 or 3 buildings.
we landed and i said goodbye to the brother and sister. in the hallway of the airport i saw the chinese guy i’d talked to in houston and stopped to wish him good luck. (his group, like some others on the plane, were in transit to singapore, so they weren’t exiting the airport and thus weren’t going the same direction as me.) at first signs were in both english and russian, but the hall came to a 3-way split and i don’t think the signs were in english. i don’t recall. if they were, there was a ton of text on them and i was having problems figuring out what to do. there was a lady in a uniform/outfit there, and she was asking people in russian where they were going or what their status was or something. she pretty quickly said “transit?” to me, and i shook my head “no” and she directed me toward one of the three paths. i figured i was getting my luggage, but when i walked around the corner there was a big line of people leading to some booths that were passport control. and more signs in russian that i couldn’t read. i was worried this might put me “outside” the terminal area, in which case how would i get my one checked bag? a cute little blond russian girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, in line in front of me kept staring at me. i would look at her then smile then look away, and eventually she smiled at me. i finally heard a guy in front of me speaking english to the woman he was with, so i asked if they knew if baggage claim was on the other side of the passport control. she was russian, but spoke english – he was american. after i got in line, the line had also gotten huge behind me, but then a couple of times someone had come and said something in russian and a bunch of people left. so i also wasn’t sure what that was about. she went away, then came back and said they were letting people go to other areas, but the lines were just as long. then she asked (in russian) a lady behind us in line if she knew about baggage, and the lady said it was on the other side. humorously, all of this experience also gave me some experience with some “russian” traits (stereotypes or not). some people would come up and start their own lines up in front, some would cheat up, etc. there were also maybe 10 passport control booths, but only 2 were open. and they never put any more, even when the lines got huge. but i think in general some people are like that with lines everywhere, and bureaucracy knows no political boundaries. it took me maybe an hour to get through airport checking and screening at iah, and generally they weren’t particularly pleasant, helpful, or understanding.
anyway, i got through that line and up to the booth, then handed the lady my passport. so spoke no english, i guess. she asked me if i spoke russian, i said not much. she was happy enough, smiling, talking to the other lady that she was in the booth with. then she said something i didn’t understand. she said it (or something similar) again and pointed at her eyebrow. but she was still smiling / laughing and talking to the other lady. so i guess she was talking about my eyebrow piercing, but i don’t know what. she processed my passport and said “studyent, ah?” and smiled and i said “da”. she gave me my immigration paper. (that’s something to note: in the past, on the plane they would give you a form perforated top to bottom down the middle, you’d have to fill out both sides with info about yourself – name, passport, date of birth, reason for visiting, etc. – then hand that in and they’d stamp it and give you half and keep half. well, that bit of bureaucracy has been streamlined: now you give them your passport and they look at your passport and visa and enter it all into a computer, then print out the immigration form already filled out and give it to you. at least at domodedova. i was told by someone in my russian class they still had to fill it out themselves at the airport they came into.)
once i got through passport control, it was on to baggage. it took so long they’d taken all the baggage from our plane off the conveyor belt and put it on the ground, but it was easy to find my one bag. i went to walk through customs, but i didn’t want to claim anything so i walked through the green side instead of the red side (thanks djalil:). i guess i either looked too suspicious or got randomly picked though, because a lady by an x-ray machine said something to me, which i assumed meant to put my bags on the conveyor belt. i tried to tell her i had a laptop in the bag, but she didn’t seem to care and just pointed. so i put my bags through. nothing went off and no one told me to do anything else (another person was having a bunch of fruit, nuts, etc. thrown away), so i picked up my bags and walked off.
at this point, i knew i wanted to take a train to the metro, but i had no idea what it was called (although i’d seen signs for “аэроекспресс” (“aero-express”) and assumed that was what i wanted), where it was (although there were signs pointing for aero-express), or how to go about doing it. i had sort of kept talking with the american guy and russian girl, but she had wandered off and the american guy didn’t know, so i decided to wing it. i walked up to some automated machines, hoping they were maybe to buy train tickets, but they looked more like an atm and some other kinds of machines for something. (I later learned these machines are everywhere, and are to pay your bills – phone, cell, electric, etc. – from lots of different companies, and the people who set up the machines take a commission.) several people had been standing around saying “такси! такси?” (“taxi”), but now a more assertive guy came up. in broken english he asked where i was going, and he said he could take me there for 2000 rubles (about $67), if not i’d have to take the train, go into metro, change trains. i said no thanks and kept walking. after continuing walking for some time, i eventually came upon a bank of machines for the aeroexpress. after watching a few people, i jumped on one. i chose one ticket, on “стандардный” (which i assumed meant “standard” – the other, more expensive, option was the word “business” in russian). the ticket cost 320 rubles (~$10.50).
with my ticket purchased, i decided to use the restroom. as i was opening the door, two cleaning women were in there. i went to turn around, and they let me know (in russian) i could go in. it seems like when i was in asia, having a female in a public bathroom cleaning it is no reason for guys to not keep using the space. i also used this opportunity to put on my money belt, which i hadn’t done so far. upon leaving the restroom, i put the shoulder strap over my head and hit my glasses, which were perched on the top of head. i then had to do an awkward pulling on the bag, my glasses, etc. while trying to not drop anything. (this bit of story will have a payoff shortly.) i walked out of the airport and by a guy in a uniform who was keeping people from going in the way i was coming out, hoping i was going the right way, and going onto the correct train system.
i got to a big train schedule board, most of which i couldn’t understand, then went to turnstiles. i watched some other people and figured out i was supposed to hold the bar code on the machine-printed receipt/ticket to a reader on the turnstile. i did that and went through. i walked down the railway platform, wondering if i was supposed to wait on a train on line 1 or line 2. i figured i’d just take either one, since they both dead-ended at the airport. i sat my bags and for some reason suddenly reached up to my ears. one of my plugs was gone. i must have knocked it off with the shoulder strap and glasses situation (there’s the payoff.) so the deal is, i’d had a pair of these black and red swirled glass plugs i loved, but i lost one a month or two ago when riding my motorcycle. i decided i really liked them, so even though i was going to likely be stretching from a 0 gauge to a 00 gauge in june, i bought a new pair for the trip to russia. and within about three hours of being on the ground in russia (having not even exited the airport), i lost one. i took the other one out and put in my stainless steel tunnels, just so i wouldn’t have a big hole in my ear with no jewelry.
a train showed up. i tried to make sure i wasn’t getting on a business class car, so i walked way down the train to where all the cars looked the same for awhile and didn’t say anything on them. i hopped on and waited. the train took off, and i was on my way. i wasn’t sure if the train had stops or what, so i just sort of waited to see what happened. we went for maybe 45 minutes or something, no stopping. on the train ride i saw lots of big apartment complexes in poor repair, quite a bit of graffiti (in both english and russian), several stations we didn’t stop at, a fair bit of trees, and lots of people walking by/near the railroad lines (and the guys drinking beer). as the train started to slow, everyone appeared to be getting ready to exit the train – so i decided it was one-way, no stops, and this was the end of the line.
i got off and headed in the direction toward the station, with everyone else. lots of people were waiting at the station, but we went through them and i decided i should probably enter the doors where other people were going. it took me into a building with lots of shops. at this point, i was quickly realizing that all of the stuff people had told me about the way russians dress, and how much i’d stick out, really wasn’t true. i saw a fair number of people wearing all sorts of bright colors and multicolor clothes (including guys); i saw a fair number of young people with piercings (gauge earrings, nose, eyebrows, etc.), shaved heads, mohawks (shorter ones), etc. punk and alternative dress is alive and well in moscow. would i stick out a bit? maybe, but not nearly like so many things had said.
i had wanted to buy a new russian sim card for my phone, and had read they were in the stations, so i looked around. i found a sign that said “мтс” (“mts”), which is a cell company in russia, but when i went that way i found nothing but a dead end. i turned around and walked back, and saw two little stand-up podiums for “мегафон” (“megaphone”) and “билайн” (“beeline”). i decided to try beeline. i walked up and…he didn’t speak english. i tried to say in russian that i needed a micro-sim for my iphone. he pulled an envelope that said “микро sim-карта дла ipad”. this worried me a little bit, since an iPad isn’t a cell phone, but i couldn’t talk to him to verify it could do calls and sms, and i think it was the only micro-sim card he had. i also didn’t have the pin to eject the tray with my at&t sim, so i had to say “у вам есть” and point my finger at the tray pinhole. he figured it out, but didn’t have one, so he borrowed the name tag from the megaphone guy, and i used the pin on the back of it to eject the tray. i put the new sim in, powered the phone up, and it said “beeline” (in russian) instead of at&t. it’s at this point that i learned russians say numbers *really* fast. i could not for the life of my understand what he was saying. finally he flipped the envelope over and wrote “400p/500p” on it. which still didn’t understand. so he pulled out his phone and showed me a text that showed his “баланс” (i.e. “balance”) and then pointed at the 400p. that’s when i realized i was to pay him 500 rubles, and i would have a 400 ruble balance on the account. so 100 rubles for the sim card. i paid him and thanked him and went on my way.
i walked into the doors the appeared to be the metro entrance (“вход”), then immediately didn’t know what to do next. i decided to use this opportunity to try and text olga, who was the girl i rented a room from on airbnb.com for the two nights i’d be in moscow. except i couldn’t. i really didn’t know how to properly format a phone number for russia, but i also wasn’t sure if my sim card had cell service. i did have internet though, so i tried using other online apps. i never could get anything to do what i wanted as far as calling anyone, texting anyone, etc. so i decided i probably bought an internet only sim, and gave up on that. (at this point it was around 6pm.) i saw other people using automated machines to buy tickets, so i decided to do that. i went up and i recognized the russian word for “train” and buttons with “1” and “2” along with 28 rubles and 56 rubles, so i decided it was for one trip or two trip tickets. i bought a one-trip ticket. i walked up to the turnstiles but didn’t really know if i was supposed to give the ticket to the people standing near one of the turnstiles or what. i walked up and showed them the ticket, and they pointed to a reader. so i put the card up to it, it turned green, and away i went.
i knew the colors of the lines i was supposed to take, and i knew the names of the stations i was supposed to get off at and change to. but when i got down the escalator, there was a long hall and metro stops along both sides, along with other signs pointing in various directions with other names and colors. first, some of the colors don’t distinguish very well (orange vs. red, for example). then, it took me awhile to decided i was actually waiting in front of the right train. i let quite a few pass. i did learn they come very frequently (or at least this line was)…like every 1.5 minutes or so. eventually i could see in some of the cars that it had a green line with station names, and i wanted the green line, so i was pretty sure it was the green line. plus on the wall across from the platform was a line with different names on the line, then below some of them one or more names with a different color and names listed below them. i finally decided this was other stations, and the lines you could catch there to go to other places. (what i didn’t realize until later, is that a lot of times where two or three lines meet, each line has it’s own station with it’s own name, and you have to walk between them…i just figured multiple lines met at one station and it would have one name. not so.) kind of funny, a couple of other guys ended up standing there for some time, and were holding a city guide, so i asked them in english if they were trying to figure out if this was the green line, and they said “yes”. i told them my theory and that i was pretty sure it was, but they decided to go back and wander around some. i was also waiting for a car that seemed to have some open room. so when one finally stopped and met my criterion for space, i got on. it did take me the correct way, i did manage to change lines successfully (my experiences in the taiwanese subways with ash helped me understand this some, i think), and i made it to “китай-город” station. i picked a direction with “выход в город” (exit to the street) and walked along, went up an escalator, walked some more by little stalls in the underground passages until i saw stairs and went up.
and there i was, in downtown moscow. i pulled out my phone and used it to get my bearings. i had walked out by a small park. the temperature was really nice, maybe upper 70’s, and the sun was shining. i walked a couple of blocks, then came to the building where i was renting a room for two days. (for $75/night through airbnb.com, a good deal for a place to stay in downtown moscow that isn’t a hostel or such.) olga (the owner of the apartment i was staying in) had said she had people leaving the same day i was arriving, so i wanted to make sure they were gone before i went up. thus began the difficulty of me trying to talk with her without having a regular cell phone sim. i eventually used talkatone (app) to make a phone call over 3g/edge. it worked, but not too well. she had a hard time understanding me, as there was gaps and such. after a couple of minutes of this, i decided to just go up.
the hallway was kind of in disrepair, and as i climbed the three flights of stairs i noticed most of it was not particularly clean or well kept. i got to a door that said both 7 and 9 on it. olga opened the door and let me into a small entryway that went to another door that was to her apartment. she showed me the room i’d be staying in, i dropped my stuff in it and unpacked some stuff. the inside of her apartment was really nice, and pretty big. all of the furnishings, flooring, etc. were new and modern styling. i went into the kitchen where she was and she asked if i wanted some tea or coffee. we talked for a bit, and she let me know that they’d just left a note on the building door earlier that day saying they were going to turn off the hot water while they worked on things, and it’s common here that they don’t give much warning before they work on things. i also remembered i probably should remove my shoes when inside – i asked if this was the case and she smiled and said yes. i didn’t really have plans or know what i was going to do, so said she needed to run some errands and if i wanted to tag along i could. i agreed, and asked if she could also help me get a real cell sim. she said we could do that too. at this point she gave me my set of keys. a code for the building door (which she’d already emailed me), a key to a glass that entry door that might sometimes by closed, a key for the entry door to the entry way and a key to her door. after explaining the many keys to me, off we went.
we walked by the headquarters of the kgb (now fsb), and went on teatralny prospect. she went and bought some coffee (she uses n’espresso individual coffee canisters), then we went to an mtc store and i got a new sim card. she did most of the talking. they actually used a handheld sim cutter/punch to cut a regular sim down to a micro-sim, which worked fine. the card cost me 200 rubles, with about 155 ruble balance. i had told her about losing my plug, so she took me to a tattoo/piercing shop, but they didn’t have any large gauge jewelry. (again, olga did all the talking.) she told her somewhere to go that had a good selection, but olga said it was too far away. we went up tverskaya street to pushkin square, then down and over to red square, the kremlin, lenin’s tomb, gum (not sure why they write it that way in english, since it’s pronounced like “goom” not “gum”), etc. it was a lot of walking, and i was wearing my motorcycle boots. and i’m sure i saw a lot of things but had no clue what they actually were. i asked her questions about various things about living in moscow, political stuff, russian perspectives on things, cultural stuff, etc. we ended up going to eat at a ёлки-палки (yolki-palki), which is a russian food buffet chain place. i sampled a bunch of different stuff, some of which i knew what it was, some not. but i didn’t have anything that i couldn’t handle. of course, i also avoided putting things that looked too dicey on my plate in the first place. we walked back to her apartment, and i went to bed.
thus ended what started on a u.s. thursday (i got up around 7am) and ended midnight or so on a russian friday (so ended a 32 hour day for me, minus the 4 or so hours i slept on the plane).

don’t call it a comeback

“tonight i hung out at the kelvin arms with my friend jason from work.”
(he wanted me to put this on my blog. so i’m complying to hopefully make him happy. he also wants me to start blogging again. i’ve thought about it, but i’m not sure it’s worth it. i have had some things go on over the last 1.5 years that i wouldn’t mind putting on here. but i’m still not sure it’s worth the time and effort.)