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


  1. Grrrrr...he means it when he says he feels stupid taking pictures...even as a favor! Grrrrrr

  2. hello there, what else would you recommend a student to take that will be hard or impossible to find in Russia? I'm afraid of not being able to find stuff, lol :)

  3. hm, thats a good question. honestly I dont think there is anything major that you can get here (in the US) that you cant get there. in terms of forgetting anything, i dont think there is anything you can forget that will just screw you over because they will have it, or at least an equivalent there that you can get. that being said, prices on some clothing lines or electronic products are different but, if i were you, i wouldnt worry too much though :)