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.

2 comments on “russia: day 2”

  1. Sounds like beer is as expensive there as it is in Taipei (i.e. really freaking expensive). That Russian guy you mentioned saying random English things… I recently made sense of something that I hadn’t really analyzed before. People here come up to you and say all manner of weird things in English. For instance, last week, I went to a friend’s translation class at his church and one old guy gave me some candy and said, “This is the good candy. Young taiwanese boys very much like. It is quite popular here and good for healthy too.” He actually went on even longer and I was asking myself, “Why the h*ll is he telling me this?” Later, I realized, he’s basically trying to get as many English words in as possible to capitalize on this chance to practice (by the way, I really hate it when I get used as an English practice board, especially when I make it clear that I don’t want to speak English). Sometimes these things can be annoying, but they do make life overseas more interesting overall (or maybe they just provide good fodder for storytelling).

  2. I forgot to mention: the key to making it through a cold shower is to control your breathing. Consciously force yourself to make deep controlled breaths. Works for me anyway.

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