Saturday, July 23, 2011

today on the metro

I was in the center of the city with Morgan today buying presents and souvenirs and just generally walking around. When we decided to head out separate ways, I caught the metro towards my house. I got on the train and plopped down in my seat, headphones in and my music on shuffle. when i sat down i noticed there was a woman sitting across from me who looked... a little odd. something was wrong with her, she was looking off into the distance as if really distracted. i first noticed it at a glance but didnt pay to much attention to it, closed my eyes, and rested my head on the side of the metro car. a little while later, i noticed that there was a man standing in front of her, who was her husband (maybe he was her boyfriend but my guess would be husband, either way, it was clear they were together). further down the bench, space for two people to sit had opened up and he got the woman's attention and motioned to move down the bench so they could both sit down. she was reluctant to look at him, something i attributed to her being distracted, but when he did manage to get her attention she shook her head no to his request to move. the man then said something, the words were muffled by the noise of the moving train, but the firm and almost threatening nature of what he said was apparent through his body language. after that, they moved.

the seats they moved to happen to be directly across from me, making it almost difficult not to look at least in their direction. the man was sitting on the left and the woman on the right, turned to the right, away from her companion. i noticed tears start to well up in the womans eyes, which then escalated to her scrunching up her forehead and gently wiping the tears away with her fingers as to not ruin her makeup. she was crying. the man, at first didnt notice that she was upset enough to cry, and was just playing with his camera. when he finally did look at her and noticed that she was crying, he immediately grew very angry. after this point, i watched as things escalated. the woman became increasingly upset, started crying louder and harder and, correspondingly, the man got angrier and angrier. he never said a word to her, it was clear she would have ignored him anyway, but his face consistently god redder and redder and his hands started to bunch up into fists. then, those fists tightened until his knuckles became white. his anger was pretty palpable at this point and every time he shifted his weight or the car rocked, i thought he was going to hit the woman, who was basically sobbing at this point.

i began to think about what would happen if he hit her. would anyone do anything? most likely not. would i do something??? also most likely not. i got really anxious and rose to the edge of my seat, all the while a debate raging in my head. on one hand, the russian mentality of 'it's not your problem' where omnipresent, as no one really cared or even noticed the situation, and if they did, they were all so good at just zoning it out. on the other hand, i couldnt comprehend watching, directly in front of me, a man beating his wife. i have never been in a situation where i have watched domestic violence happen before my eyes and as much as i might like to say, in principle, i would intervene, i am not entirely sure what would have happened. either way, in the moment, my conviction grew and i noticed as my fingers also started to curve into fists. i analyzed my surroundings and determined what would be the best way to intercept him if he started to hit her. he wasnt particularly big and looked about 50's - 60's without frequent exercise, meaning if he would tire and give up quickly. granted, i reminded myself, i wasnt planning on fighting this man, and i was aware and anxious and replete with anticipation enough to stop him and simply put myself in between the two of them before he really did anything.

at this point, something interesting happened. the man looked at me, into my eyes, for about 5.... long, seconds. when he looked at me and i noticed he was actually looking at me, instead of looking through me, because i was the only person on the train who seemed to care that this woman was crying, i shook my head at him, slowly. im not really sure whether i was trying to say a plea: "dont do it, please, dont do it" or a confrontational: "i am going to intervene if you make a move." the man then looked down at my torso and saw my hands at my side and at-the-ready and the fact that i was literally on the edge of my seat. the man looked me in the eyes again and his eyes squinted as he thought and evaluated.

tbe train pulled into the station, my station, and the woman shot out of her seat and out of the door on the metro car, the man followed and i followed after that. I watched the woman practically run to the escalator and secure a place standing next to a stranger, forcing her husband, who was at minimum 40 paces behind her, to stand a good distance away from her on the escalator. the same thing happened when they got to the top of the escalator, she bounced out of the metro station basically jogging and he followed, walking. i crossed the street and headed towards my apartment. as i was walking through the park i always through to get to and from the metro, One Tin Solder by Joni Mitchell came on my iPod (that's for you gooch and ceraldi :) ) and i sat down on a park bench and started crying.

i thought about what would happen, what could happen to between to couple when they got home. i thought about how many times it had happened before and how many times it will happen again with nothing being done. i thought about hate and meanness between human beings and why it happens. i thought about my responsibility, our responsibility, if any, to help and look out for one another or whether the world is a cold, dark, dog-eat-dog place where, at the end of the day, we are all alone, looking out for ourselves.

im emotional right now, clearly. maybe anyone reading this thinks its stupid or over the top and i may think that way too when i reread my post tomorrow, or even in an hour lol, but its how i am feeling right now, for whatever reason.

thanks for reading

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A real St. Petersburg summer night (short post)

So I just woke up, it's about 7pm here. I went out last night: met at a metro station with some friends at about 9 and went to a bar till midnight (when the metros all closed). After the bar, we went to a coffee house/huka bar where the d.j. was blasting some pretty hardcore trance music, which was cool, I was feeling it pretty good :) Couple more beers and then decided to pick up Southern Russian Swerma before heading home on the metro, which was just reopening for the morning (it was about 05:40 at that point). Had the swerma, which was AMAZING and only around 90 rubles, which is real cheap, dodged a couple drunk people, and hopped on the metro. I got in my door at approximately 06:30 and just passed out until now.

It was fun! :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Tale of Two Worlds

So I know I have been mia for a while an, consequently, a lot of things have happened that I could talk about so I will do my best to make it focused and informative.

The first thing I want to talk about it the idea of the "Dacha" which doesnt have a direct translation, at least as far as I am concerned, but most people say "summer house." Most of you guys out there probably have no idea what im talking about so i will do my best to explain. it is a huge part of traditional and modern russian culture and a dacha is much more than just a house or a dwelling but an entire concept. not every family has a dacha but many many families do, definitely most. what they basically are are houses outside the city, in a more rural suburb and the point of them is for the family not only to escape the busy and hectic and dirty life in the city but also to allow them to grow their own food, have a self sustaining garden, and breathe in the fresh natural clean air of the country side. my families dacha is only about 1-2 hours car drive away from their apartment in st. petersburg, which is pretty chill, and you can also get there both a combination of metro and marshrutka (like a bus basically).

whats most interesting about the concept of a dacha, to me, is that it parallels the cliche paradox of russian society. there is a stereotype of russia that no one smiles on the street, no one smiles at people they dont know, and no one makes eye contact with you. basically thats its a very cold public society. for the most part, from my experience here so far, i would agree with that but only if you understand that that is ONLY how they are on the street and in public places. the sentiment of detachment and coldness is contrasted strongly by the demeanor of people at home, where russians are among the most loving and caring and social beings on earth! its interesting because this juxtaposition, in my opinion, is mirrored by the two lives most russians live, one in the city and the other on the dacha. my family is super sweet and really nice and caring and loving and social and i am super lucky to have them and, granted, i only see them in their home mode, where they smile and laugh and shout but even then, they are different at the dacha. i sat up with my host mother for hours playing cards and drinking and talking. we played competitively and she said who ever lost would have to go out onto the corner and scream a rooster call, luckily i beat her hehehehehehehehe. she also started singing along with the soviet songs on the radio and dancing around, she was cwazy! it was interesting to see her in a different light. everyone woke up at like noon and didnt get out of bed until like 2 pm, when my host mom got up to start tending to the crops in the garden. another, more polar example is when my host dad was driving me and my host brother to the bus stop to go home, because the parents where going to stay another day at the dacha. on the side of the road was a little old woman, it was
drizzling rain, and she was getting wet. my host father pulled the car over and asked the woman where she was going, she said the same direction we were driving. after the window was rolled down, the dog in the back seat started barking furiously and the woman got scared and said she would wait for the next car... without a dog lol. my host father said dont be ridiculous and told the woman to get in. my host brother moved from the front seat to the back seat and him and i held the dog back from attacking the old woman as we gave her a ride only about a mile or so. we got to where she wanted to go and she got out, thanked us a thousand times, and went on her way. something like this would never happen in the city, ever. no matter how nice the people are at home or behind closed doors, it is just not in the culture to pick up a person on the side of the road and give them a ride somewhere, its dangerous. but everything is different on the countryside and where the dachas are, it was really nice and the woman was really grateful. the whole concept is hard to explain and i didnt do a great job but maybe atleast i gave a general idea, ill be happy to talk more about it in person with anyone. for anyone that is interested, here is a short youtube playlist of 4 videos i took, secretly, as we were all playing cards together (they are in russian of course): Дурак На Даче

I had a couple of those "only in russia" moments in the last couple of days, so let me share them with yall

For my birthday, me and some friends are going to moscow, Aaron (my cousin) hooked us up with a hotel room to stay in so we are gonna spend the weekend there and relax and sight see. In order to get to moscow, obviously, we need to buy train tickets. so, of course, i do some research online, with Luiza's help because the RZD website doesnt sell tickets in english, and find out the exact name and umber of the train we are going to take, when it leaves and when it arrives and all the information we will need to made the trip to the ticket windows as painless as possible. so me and 3 friends head to the train station after class and get in line. i dont know if anyone here has been to the train station in petersburg (Московский Вокзал) but people dont stand in line directly behind each window... they make a line like 5 feet off-centered so it looks like they are waiting to talk to the wall. anyway, we get in a line and wait there for like an hour and a half almost. we barely get to the front of the line and the woman goes on a "technical break" for 10 minutes... we laugh it off and are like, ok whatever well wait 10 more minutes. so then, she comes back and we talk to her and get the right train and the right seats and the right times, give her all our passports and she enters all the info and prints the tickets and does EVERYTHING and then tells us its time to pay so I put my credit card down on the little turn table thing and she stares at us. and stares at us... and stares at us... then she says, "cash only." CASH ONLY!? its 21000 roubles!
-"are you serious? cash only?"
-"yes, cash only"
-"we dont have cash, can we come back tomorrow for the tickets and pay?"
-"can we come back later today, in an hour or two and buy them?"
-"no, why would you come to a train station without cash!?"
- silence.... wow, that sucks. the woman then picked up the tickets and put them in the crash, one by one, looking up at us each time she dropped another on in the trash. oh the guilt trip of the humiliation. we were so frustrated, we had wasted a whole afternoon in that damn train station and now we were going to have to come back and do it all again. neverless, there we were the next day, with like 40000 rubles just in case, waited in line again, spoke to a different woman for like 45 minutes figuring out which train and all the right info again except this time, as we were talking to the woman, a sign on the side of the ticket window caught my eye. on this sign where the o-so-familiar rectangular emblems "visa" "mastercard" etc...!! a moment later the woman asked if we wanted to pay by cash or credit card - END OF STORY, ENOUGH SAID -

i was talking to julius, another guy on the program from ucla, and we were laughing about russian salespeople's etiquette. if you speak to a russian cashier or saleperson and  you want something, they will ask you what you want and then expect you to give them 100% of the information they need, in the right order, and with the most precise accuracy. if you either dont give them the right information, all the information they want, or something is not right about what you  say, they wont ask quetions to clarify, they will just stare at you and stare at you and stare at you until you somehow figure out what they want you to say. its hilarious. julius decided that next time someone does that to him, he is just going to stare back lol... well see how that goes

if i ever get the opportunity, which i am TOTALLY down for if anyone from ACTR is reading this blog, to speak on an orientation panel for study abroad in russia or if anyone asks me what they should bring to russia i will undoubtedly tell them: what do you think were the 3 hardest things for me to find in st petersburg, you will never guess --

1) nail clippers -- i must have looked in almost 20 different retail locations (pharmacies, super markets, even beauty salons and specialty store) and could not find a single pair of nail clippers. i though of you, mom, when i was looking because i found plenty of those damn nail scissors, the small curved ones that you used to cut my nails with as a kid, that i HATED because they hurt so much, and i didnt buy them. finally, misha, a friend, texted me and told me he found a store that sells nail clippers for about 200 rubles, i immediately texted him back telling him to buy them and that i would pay him 400 rubles for them, lol.

2) a notebook with lined (NOT GRAPH) paper that is bigger than 4"x4" and does not have pretty pretty princess on the cover. almost impossible to find a normal 8.5"x11" notebook with lined paper in it. for some reason they always use graph paper here and i went to Буквоед (a book and school supply store) after Буквоед looking for some and only after like 3 days of adventuring, managed to find one, i bought like 10.

3) a folder with pockets on the front and covers. I wanted some basic folders with pockets in order to keep all the handouts we get in class organized and together and for the life of me i couldnt find any, finally, i decided to use my folder from the orientation in washington, which was just what i wanted, and i took it to class and the teacher asked me "where did you get that american folder??" i was like "how do you know its american?" and they said they could tell because the pockets, LOL, and that they dont use pocketed folders in russia. doesnt really matter, i dont care, its just a really little and subtle, curious difference.

tomorrow me and some friends are going to see transformers 3, which i am excited for because it will be my first in-theater dubbed movie, i kinda wanna see transformers, and its in 3d and only costs 200 rubles! dayum! thats like.... $7, which is not too shabby!

i have a lot of interesting observations about the language and intonation and slang and contrasts with english, which is frustrating sometimes because i cant really talk about them in russian because its outside my lexicon, but i wont bore yall with that

fourth of july is coming up, we are having a picnic to celebrate tomorrow :)

alright, my time is just about up at this coffee house because my laptop is going to die soon so i am going to head out, sorry for being mia for so long but i will always come back and write something in :) thanks for reading! i keep updating my pics on facebook and have some videos up on youtube and what not but, in general, i really dont like taking pictures while travelling because i always feel so stupid lol but i will try