Thursday, September 1, 2011

A day that has no end...

OF COURSE, my journey to the "Switzerland of the Urals" has had an awesomely eventful start. I will begin with re-posting my facebook status:
 "I have not slept in two days, I have carried 42 kg of luggage plus a purse and a 15 kg backpack around in heels, I had to pay a huge baggage fine, I argued with the cab driver about the price, and I'm about to fly into a city that has just spilled a toxic chemical that reduces one's sex drive. Oh and I have to do it all in Russian. Sooo why am I in such a good mood? :) "

Yes, this is pretty much my last day... or two days? Oh wait... it's Friday? Going East is weird. On the plane, the sunset seems to come minutes before sunrise, and suddenly a day that is cut several hours short just runs into one looong neverending day. Add to this a morning flight the next day, and it's like one never-ending day that is actually three days. If reading the last two sentences was exhausting, that's how I feel!
This isn't to say I am not personally responsible for this sleep deprivation.
I decided to buy my round-trip tickets to Moscow instead of Chelyabinsk, because I plan to travel at the end of my grant period, and will most likely not leave from the same city. Because of this, I ended up buying a separate flight from Moskva to Chelyabinsk (and unfortunately, paying a separate baggage fee) and spending the night in Moscow with a friend named Olga who I met in Washington last summer.

A normal person would spend the afternoon resting and go to bed early to rest up for the 8 am flight to Tankograd... but maybe a young person in Moscow for less than 24 hours does not count as a "normal person"... so yes, we went out on the town and I did not sleep at all. There are no regrets, however. Olga and I met up with three Brazilian friends of hers who were new to the city and some Russian friends, and the night included a strange game of a Russian variant of jump rope, a random Russian on the street insisting that we all (particularly the Brazilians) took a drink of vodka with him and his giving them a souvenir (vile and very cheap) bottle of his favorite vodka, Olga's attempt at introducing the American sense of humor to an angry Armenian grocery store owner, a Russian hipster bar with its own variant of "face control", a cab ride with a Tajik who gave me a discount for saying some things in his language, a 2-hour transportation delay and complication all in the effort to save 300 rubles (about 10 dollars) and a 3am bowl of shrimp.

Moscow itself.... although I was only there for a total of 20 hours.... I can say that, the spirit of the city is exactly as I fondly remember. I returned to familiar cityscapes, metro rides, smells... even the sounds of people walking through the perexod underneath the main roads, were they sell baked goods and cigarettes and christmas trees and hookahs and you name it... it did sort feel like coming "home" in a weird way. This place was my home for a good four months.

Another interesting repeated theme is that of what people make of my nationality. The Tajik cab driver insisted several times that I was German (he would say, in Russian, "you would know, because in Germany..." "you Germans do this..." etc) and when I mentioned that I was American, he expressed both curiosity and criticism.... he expressed views of American politics similar to my own. Then he forgot again and said I was from Germany.

In response to my Russian language... well, it is most certainly, absolutely better than it was last time I was in Russia. Hands down. That said, it's never what it should be. When I talk to people I don't know, I still stumble over my words out of nervousness, and fatigue of course also doesn't help.
It has gotten to the point, however, that I don't necessarily seem like an outright foreigner, but rather "someone from a nearby former Soviet state like Latvia or something" or "an expat or a child of expats" or "a Russian with a speech impediment."
Got to love the last one.

I am now using (awesome surprise!) FREE WIFI IN SHEREMETYEVO. No. Way. My flight to Chelyabinsk leaves in one hour exactly. I know I should (and probably will) sleep on the plane, but I really want to watch the descent into the city and hopefully see the Ural mountains from above.
Eeek my laptop is running out of battery, so I will close out this first blog from Russia with a recent surprise news article from Chelyabinsk:

All the details can be found in the URL. Yes, a chemical was spilled in Chelyabinsk, a toxic one that depletes one's sex drive. Ohhhhh man....

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