One part of a day can define the memory of that day…

07/11/14   

It is interesting that the definition of a crowded bus in Russia changes between a big city like St. Petersburg and a smaller city like Vladimir.

I will explain this, but let me tell my story first.

As an introduction, at the beginning of the program during orientation we were told that Russians don’t have the same sense of personal space as people from the United States, and this has proven to be very true. Even when each person is pushed up against the person next to them, more people will try to enter the bus because they don’t want to wait for the next one.

Now I will get to the story.

It was Friday, our second to last day traveling before we returned to our host city. We had planned a trip to a neighboring city called Suzdal’ for the day (which is only about an hour bus ride), but both of us felt ill that morning and changed our plans as we were waiting at the bus stop.

We went back into the center of Vladimir instead and had a calm day first visiting the inside of a church we had gone to the night before, only to discover that it was a poorly put together museum.

We took more pictures of the church with the spire that hid itself in the fog the day before as the air was more clear, and noticed a gathering of people near the church. The people carried red flags with yellow writing and symbols (think the colors of the flag of the Soviet Union). The flags read the initials КПРФ, which I believe stands for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, one of the very active political parties in Russia. Christina didn’t notice them, so I was glad I did, that way we avoided any unwanted attention from them.

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(A clearer picture of this church)

We moved on to a nearby cafe to rest a little because although we hadn’t done much, we still both weren’t feeling ourselves. I ordered a coffee and a macaroon, while Christina ordered something I had never heard of. It looked like dry oatmeal oats that she simply poured milk over, but I am not sure that this is actually what it was.

As we sat at the cafe I continue to feel worse and more exhausted, so eventually we left and went back to the hostel. We both took a two or three hour nap and I woke up feeling much better, but rather hungry.

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(My coffee was pretty)

We decided to go out of the hostel and look for a place to eat instead of eating the food we had. The map had showed us that there was an Italian place nearby, however the map to this restaurant didn’t take into account the gates and fences that barred our ability to get there. We walked around for about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get there and after we finally did find the restaurant, it turned out to be closed. We decided to look for another place since the map had shown other restaurants near enough to us, but as we were walking, the street started to look empty. Christina insisted that we keep going because other people were walking on this street so it must lead somewhere. I had a guess of where it lead because of the direction we were headed in, but I wasn’t sure. We ended up on a very dark sidewalk set back from the road next to a bunch of trees in an area that looked like it had a river or a creek, but it was too dark to tell. The only comfort was that it was beautiful, but there were also quite a few pedestrians walking on the same sidewalk.

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(They always seem to arrange napkins in this flowery formation in cafes and restaurants in Russia)

We ended up where I had expected we would, in the city center which we normally took the trolleybus to get to. As we walked along the street looking for a place to eat, we passed the Golden Gate again and saw that it lit up at night. Shortly after that we found a restaurant that looked popular because it had many people inside, so we decided to try it. For me, one way to judge a restaurant on whether the food is good and if it is reasonably priced is by the amount of people in it.

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(The Golden Gate lit up)

The restaurant was split into a few separate areas instead of being one large open room like many restaurants in the United States tend to be. After we had sat down and ordered our food and a glass of wine to accompany it, a young man showed up and was seated near us. He was obviously already intoxicated, and all he ordered was vodka and what looked like a chaser of some sort. A little while later he stumbled over to us uninvited pulled up a chair at our table and promptly sat down. Apparently he became interested because he heard us speaking English. He asked the waitress for a bottle of champagne for us, which I tried to signal her that we did not want it, but he was a big drunk man and we couldn’t really do anything.

He asked us our names, so I told him my name was Masha and that Christina’s was Krysta because it was the first name I thought of. I did most of the talking since Christina didn’t understand much, but we both wanted to get out of there. Christina’s food had already come, but she wasn’t eating it. Her choosing not to eat it wasn’t going to help us get out of there, but she seemed too distressed. After my food came, I told her to eat because I wanted to get the check and leave as soon as we could.

The champagne came and the guy (I never asked his name) made us stand up to toast. After we sat, he proceeded to ask us about American politics since the midterm elections had just happened and Republicans had gained the majority in both houses. I have no interest in getting into a discussion about American politics with a Russian much less a drunken Russian man, so I told him that we were more interested in international politics and didn’t know much about what’s going on in the United States since we were not there, so we can’t say anything about it. He kept trying to ask, but it was lucky in this instance that he was intoxicated because I didn’t have to say much to get off of the subject. After some time he wanted to have a cigarette break with us, but neither of us smoke or have ever smoked. We had to tell him this over and over again because he kept trying to get us to come with him even to keep him company, but apart from not liking cigarette smoke, we had no interest in going out of the crowded restaurant with him. As he was getting up to leave, he asked one of the people at another table in the room if they wanted to smoke with him, but they declined as well. His presence was making everyone’s experience unpleasant.

Finally he left and as soon as he did we asked for the check. Christina was still eating, but we wanted to ask for it at a time when the guy wasn’t in the room. I also moved his chair back to the proper table, but it didn’t do much to prevent him from joining us again.

When he returned, he picked up my glass of champagne and drank it in one gulp. The champagne wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want it so I didn’t really care. He pulled his chair back up and brought his vodka with him this time. He was already very drunk, having knocked over one of the champagne glasses, but I guess he wanted to take more shots. I kept having to move the glasses and the bottle further and further back from him as he became drunker and started having less precise motor control of his movements.

He was very caught up on my name because I had told him it was Masha. He didn’t understand why I had a Russian name and wasn’t Russian. He kept asking me to explain it, but I just asked him why I shouldn’t have a Russian name.

When he got tired of asking about my name, he picked up Christina’s hand and kissed it, at which point she told him she had a boyfriend. He took this as information that both of us had boyfriends, which I don’t, but he proceeded to ask their names. Christina’s boyfriend’s name is very American and he could not understand it, so he moved on to me. I scrambled around for a guy’s name and told him that my boyfriend’s name is Tyler, which was the name of my first boyfriend. I made sure to say the name in a very American way, instead of Russianizing it. Luckily with how drunk he was he didn’t notice my delay as I tried to think of a name.

After Christina scrambled to finish her dinner, I told him we were going to use the bathroom. We did go to the bathroom, but there we talked about what our next plan of action should be. Christina had been messaging her boyfriend, who said that we should either take a taxi back to the hostel so he couldn’t follow us, or we could tell the waitress or manager he made us uncomfortable. I thought this would be great advice for the United States, but we were in another country where things don’t work quite the same. The chances of a taxi being nearby were not very high and I thought that it would be unnecessary to take a taxi. As to the advice about telling the manager or waitress, I don’t know the word for manager in Russian, although I do know how to tell them that he scared us. I had also been measuring their physical states in my head. The guy who had been talking to us obviously had some muscle on him; he was not a small man and just because he was drunk did not mean that that muscle wouldn’t be used. The only male staff member I had seen in the restaurant was very scrawny and the rest were small females. I decided our best option would be to get our coats from the coat check and slip out.

We did just that and it worked. We speed walked to the bus stop, but there was no sign of him following us. Even though we didn’t see him we wanted to get out of the area. Even if he had followed us I don’t know if he would have been able to keep up because he was so drunk that he was knocking things over and stumbling around, however I know that a really determined drunk person can accomplish a lot so it was good that we didn’t have to take any chances. As we got on the bus, I realized that it was more crowded then I had seen a bus in one of these smaller cities, but compared to crowded busses in St. Petersburg, there was definitely enough room on it for 10 or 15 more people. We got on the bus, but it seemed that other people who had been waiting for the same bus decided it was too crowded, so they continued to wait.

When we got back to the hostel I told Christina that I thought he had been married and was probably a relatively new husband who isn’t enjoying marriage. He was wearing a gold band on his ring finger on his right hand. I think I have mentioned before that Russian’s wear wedding rings on their right hand because there is an artery or vein or something that runs from your heart to that finger.

We were both very disappointed about this experience because it could have been a very good meal and an enjoyable dinner, but instead it had all been ruined by a drunk man.

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Chinese and Stress

Today I am so tired and I haven’t done much of anything. I think it is because I was so stressed out yesterday. August 26th is the birthday of two of my immediate family members – my father and my youngest sister. My father has been very busy, but I was going to try to Skype them both if I could. On top of trying to deal with the time difference, the fact that neither of these to family members really uses social media or replies to their email often (which are the only ways I can contact people right now) makes it so I have to coordinate everything through my mother who is also busy and I had to calculate another time difference to attend my online orientation for my upcoming study abroad program. I forgot a few pieces. As I was still attending my online orientation Guoda and Tautvydas came home and I felt very rude because I could not fully concentrate on what they were saying when they were talking to me because I had to listen to a person I could not even see on my computer. They also were preparing dinner (another delicious pumpkin) because they were inviting a friend over to eat with them. There I was, still on my online orientation and trying to figure out when I could talk to my family while all of this other stuff was a swirling mass of business around me, or maybe just in my head. I think all of these things together stressed me out too much. I have probably been stressed too much this whole trip (since I left the United States) trying to get everything to run smoothly so I would be able to go to Kazan’ and St. Petersburg, and now as soon as I get a little bit stressed I wear myself out by over stressing.

In the end I didn’t get to talk to either my father or my sister for their birthdays. I had to give up and ask my mother to say happy birthday for me. At the time I felt so defeated by having to ask someone else to say happy birthday to my own family members for me! I felt like it was such a pathetic thing to do, and I felt terrible for having done it. In reality, it was not my fault. I did try to be able to talk to them.

All of this stress from last night traveled over into the morning. This morning I did not want to get up, I did not want to eat breakfast, I did not want to work on my blog, and I did not want to start my day. I did not post anything yesterday and I told myself that because I had time in Lithuania, I have to try to post something every day to try to catch up from not posting anything while I was in Kazan’. I am working on a few posts that concern my time in Kazan’, but they aren’t finished so, I missed a day.

I did eventually drag myself up to take a shower and work on my blog. I didn’t get out of the apartment until lunch time because I was writing, but I told myself I had to go somewhere to eat lunch so I would get on my feet and start walking.

There is a small Chinese restaurant in the area that I am staying. When I was walking with Tautvydas and Guoda they told me that they had not been there because it seemed suspicious to them. It is in an old, blue wooden building that looks like a house. The paint is peeling and faded in some areas, and you can barely tell from the outside that it’s a restaurant. The only indicating factors are the smells that waft through the window every time I pass by and two Chinese lanterns hanging from the corners of the patio cover. It is probably semi-new because it does not show up on a map if you try to look it up.

When I left the apartment for lunch today I decided I wanted Chinese food so I went to look inside of this restaurant and told myself that I would find another place if this hole in the wall Chinese restaurant didn’t look appetizing enough to me. I shouldn’t have even questioned whether or not the restaurant was good. I haven’t been to other Chinese restaurants in Vilnius, but the places that are hard to spot are usually the best. Upon walking inside I discovered the restaurant was almost full. It wasn’t a very big restaurant, but it says something about a restaurant, especially when it is not easily noticeable, when it is full. I took the last table, a two person table that was situated right in front of the door, leaving about five feet for people to enter and stand in between the table and the door. During the time I sat at this table waiting for my order and eating my food, I observed many groups of people coming to the restaurant for lunch hoping there was an empty table.

I ordered fried rice and sweet and sour chicken, which are two of one of my sister’s favorite dishes when we go out to eat Chinese food. I knew they weren’t going to taste the same, but I wanted something vaguely familiar so that I could compare the different flavors with those that I remember from places at home.

Although the inside of the restaurant was decorated with Chinese decorations, a blonde and obviously Lithuanian, waitress took care of my order. As I started to look around and listen, I noticed the restaurant was playing old American rock music instead of something that would create an atmosphere more representative of China. I seem to experience strange music with restaurants that serve international food often though. Not only abroad, but also in the United States. It is sort of like the people running the restaurant aren’t quite sure what music would make an appropriate match with the food and the decorations to create a full picture.

I think (I am not sure though) that this restaurant was the first place I have been that hasn’t been packed with tourists. I believe I was the only one in there who was speaking English (although I immediately switched to Russian when the waitress didn’t at first understand me). Tourists from other countries normally speak English here because, as Guoda said, it is a common language between small countries. Again, when I spoke in Russian to the waitress, I realized that even though English is widely used, it is better to know another language, too so that one can have more opportunities to communicate with the rest of the world.