Monthly Archives: June 2010

The most adorable statue ever

St. Petey’s has some really magnificent and awe-inspiring monuments and architecture — the Bronze Horseman being a classic example or the Horse Tamers on the Fontanka. But this little guy really takes the cake for the cutest monument ever.

Chijik Pyjik! (Чижик Пыжик)

At 11 cm tall, I’m pretty sure it’s the tiniest monument ever. People throw coins at it and if the coin lands on the little bird’s perch, you get to make a wish. My host mom and I went on another marathon walk* and she poured a handful of kopecks into my hand. However, because I am severely lacking in the hand-eye coordination area, I wasn’t able to land a coin.

This little guy also comes with a famous ditty! Unfortunately, I only know the first 2 lines:
Chijik Pyjik, gde ty byl?
Na Fontanke vodku pil.

Chijik Pyjik, where have you been?
Drinking vodka on the Fontanka.

*Since the weather’s a little better, my host mom loves to take me on walks. I thought walks meant strolling around for 30 minutes or 45 minutes at the most. I was wrong. Tanya power strolls for 3 hours at the minimum. (Yesterday, we went on a 11km walk for fun.) And when I say power stroll, I mean she speedily darts between crowds of people, leaving me defenseless and helpless in a sea of Russians. Tourist season is high upon us, but that also means a ton of Russian tourists pour in from other cities. All tourists are the same — they walk with that confused, dazed look on their faces, with their head tilted up at an angle. Which means that they don’t watch where they’re going.


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Rasputin was hung like a horse

The other day, a group of us went to the Erotica Museum after school to check out Rasputin’s embalmed chlen – member. I use the word “museum” in the loosest possible sense — it’s a couple of glass cases filled with genitalia shaped into fun figurines and Rasputin’s pickled dick, which is the main exhibit. It’s also located in the Prostate Center (and I think AIDS clinic?) , so while we’re there, giggling, there are people sitting, waiting to get tested for STDs and prostate issues.

I also highly doubt this thing is real. There is a major loophole in their story. Even if a couple of robbers decided to chop off Rasputin’s weiner, they’d have to immediately preserve it, or else, well it’d dry out or rot. And formaldehyde isn’t really a household item. It’s probably a sea-cucumber or something. All the same, it’s still kind of a shock/absolutely hilarious to see a 30cm and two-fist thick dick in a jar.

Rasputin was really popular with the ladies though - they'd literally line up just to sleep with him.

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Throwing the coin into the fountain

“Let’s go for a walk.” I readily agreed. The weather had been grey-scale and rainy for most of the day on Sunday, and it was depressingly cold for a summer’s day. Only around 8 pm did the stormy clouds part to blue skies and sun. Tanya, my host mom, and I set off for Palace Square (Дворцовая Площадь) from our house, passing by the Mariinskii Theater and the Cathedral of St. Isaac’s on the way.

Исаакиевский собор

On our way back, we took a small detour in Aleksandrovskii Garden. Leading me by the arm, Tanya took me to the fountain that was in the center. “Look at the arc in the middle. If the sun hits the fountain in just the right spot, a rainbow appears. If we had left just a little bit earlier, we would have seen it.” I leaned against the fountain and stared up at the sun, in disbelief that it was almost 10:30 at night. Reaching into my bag, I fished out two 10-kopeck coins, one for her and one for myself.

“Ah, you have to throw the coin as far as you can, you know that?” The farther the throw, the better chance that the wish will come true, right? The wind up, and then the throw. I watched as my coin disappeared into the sunlight and somewhere into the fountain.

“Your coin practically flew!” Tanya exclaimed gleefully.

I wished that I could stay in St. Petersburg, not only for the summer, but for the year and more. In the past five months that I have been here, I realized that I still have so much to see and learn, and that I have barely scratched the surface. I am just beginning to understand what it is like to live here and I have finally adjusted to the daily rhythm of the city. I am finally beginning to understand the Russian character and soul, and at the same time, I am finally beginning to realize that I still know nothing at all about this enigmatic and historic city. It’s not just my wish to return to Russia, it’s my goal, and I will find a way to come back here.

St. Petersburg, for better or for worse, I have fallen deeply in love with you.

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Yes No Maybe.

It was a typical rainy morning in St. Petersburg, and Tanya was complaining about how cold it was and how she hated having wet shoes. As she was staring out the window and cursing Peter the Great for having built this city on a bog and bones, I asked her if she wanted my rain boots. She muttered a reply: Da net naverno (да нет наверно). Yes no maybe. I paused. So what was her answer, does she want my rain boots or not?

Russians have this way of answering Da Net, which from my understanding, is a soft no — a мягкая нет, in the words of my host mom. The person wants to say yes, or wouldn’t be against saying yes, but, unfortunately, has to say no. At least that’s what my host mom said. And usually, I can tell the answer from the way the person says da net. But Da net naverno threw me off. Which one is it, no or maybe? Is it a maybe leaning towards a no? Or is it a no leaning towards uncertainty? Or is it just an unsure no? Or is it one of those answers where the no means yes but they just say no to be polite? I asked my host mom to clarify and she laughed at me. “It all depends on how the person says it. Everything also depends on the situation, koneshno. Of course.” Nothing in this damn language is straight forward.

One of the reasons I took Russian is because my high school Russian teacher told me it was the easiest language to learn, because it doesn’t have all those annoying perfective, imperfective, plus-que-parfait, etc aspects of Romance languages. My high school Russian teacher was also lying out of his ass. He’s Polish, and I have a conspiracy theory that he secretly wanted all of his students to hate Russian by telling them it was an easy language and then having them painfully find out that it wasn’t so. And I have painfully found out that Russian isn’t easy. Too late to turn back now and switch back to French. I threw 14 years of French away for probably 14 more years of toiling and confusion in Russian.

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Show me your documents

As we were walking up the stairs to the Lviv train station, two surly policemen looked us up and down, gruffly asked where we were going, and demanded that we showed them our documents. During my entire stay in Russia, I’ve never ever been document checked. But I have to say, Ukraine is a much more mono-colored country than Russia is, and to be fair, our group was pretty rag-tag looking. One of my friends looks Chechen, I’m blatantly Asian/Central Asian, and my other friend is, well, pretty American. And we were all speaking quite loudly in English, so of course we brought attention to ourselves.

We all take out our passports and other traveling documents and hand them to the policemen. Everything was seemingly fine until the policeman checking my documents asked me, “Devushka, where is your stamp? There is no stamp on your immigration card.”

An immigration card. The part that you keep gets stamped. The other half gets taken and filed away somewhere. Overall, it's a really stupid system, since it's a tiny slip of paper that's easily lost or forgotten.

I looked in dismay at my unstamped immigration card — for some reason, they didn’t take away half of my immigration card at the border. With wide eyes and trying to muster the best puppy face I could, I look back to the police officer and said, “I didn’t get a stamp. I don’t know what happened.” Puppy face didn’t work, because the policeman then slightly raised his voice and replied, “Your friend here has a stamp. And your other friend has a stamp. But you don’t have a stamp. What is the deal? What happened?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know what happened. But what do I do now?” I asked.
The police officer sighed and shifted his hat. “You come with me.”

As I followed the policemen up to the platform where our train was going to leave, he kept admonishing me and repeating, “What happened to your stamp? Your friends have a stamp but you don’t have a stamp.” At the top of the platform, he again demanded for my passport, which I gave to him. He sighed again, shifted his stance, and said,
“This is what is going to happen. You pay a shtraf. You will then be put into the system, and everything will be okay at the border.” Alarms start going off in my head. What system!? How are they going to know that I already paid a fine? There are no computers at the border. I’m in deep, deep shit.
“How are they going to know? I need something to show them at the border,” I replied frantically.
“You will be put into the system. You don’t need anything to show,” the police officer answered exasperatedly. Switching into English, he patronizingly asked, “Do you understand?”
Answering in Russian, I stressed that I understood. “But I need something to show,” I pressed. “How will they know?” No matter how many times I stressed that I needed some document to show at the border, the policeman simply responded with the answer that I would be put in the “system.” I had no other choice but to give him my useless, unstamped immigration card and a rather hefty fine, which he instantly pocketed. I hope you choked on the vodka you bought with the money you ripped off me.

I helplessly looked at my friends. “I’m fucked.”

At the Ukrainian-Russian border, I nervously waited as the border control officers patrolled through. He asked for my friend’s documents first, and I crossed my fingers and hoped that he wouldn’t ask for her immigration card. He did. Shit. I gave him my documents, and when he noticed my immigration card was missing, he demanded it from me. I explained that I didn’t have it and that I already paid a fine. He gave me the stink eye. I glared right back.

Now here’s the surprising part. He sat down, pulled out this ratty leather book, and flipped to the end.
“Er..Tron Grah-kay?” Tron Grah-kay? Wait, that’s my name, only terribly Russified! I was put into the “system” after all. I was for sure that I was going to have to pay another hefty fine. Oh Eastern Europe, you’re just full of surprises.

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Crossing the bogether into Ukraine

Apologies again for not writing about Ukraine sooner. The new kids have come in for the summer semester, and I’ve been sort of helping out — I bought a grand total of seven phones/sim cards for various people. And it’s also white nights, so what would I be doing inside anyway?

At 3 AM we crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border/bogether. We catch this little gem on the back of our immigration cards. To put it nicely, we lost our shit laughing.

I would have to say that I felt the most at ease and at home in Ukraine, because Ukraine was basically like Russia, except nicer, cleaner, and friendlier. I’m not trying to talk Russia down (like I have been doing throughout my entire blog), but the people are more helpful to the lost and cowardly foreigner than Russia has or will ever be. Case in point, when we arrived in Lviv (or Lvov, or Lwow, or Lemberg), we immediately became disoriented and couldn’t find our way to one cafe. A man walked past us, noticed that we were terribly lost, and walked 10 minutes out of his way to show us where the cafe was. Would this happen in Russia? Or even in America?

I have this theory that Russians aren’t actually all that unfriendly. Most of them just don’t understand anything besides their own language. I’ve noticed that the better my Russian has become, all the nicer Russians seem to appear. And if you think about it, Americans are pretty rotten towards foreigners who don’t speak English very well. We simply can’t be bothered to explain something slowly to someone. Again, just my 2 kopecks.

At the Lychakiv Cemetary

Ukraine welcomed us with open arms and showered us with low-grade, crude energy drinks. We putzed around in some famous crypts — notable people buried there include Nestor the Chronicler, Yury Longarms, and good old Stolypin. We also did a bunch of other stuff. But as Ukraine was the last stop on our memorable trip, it has a fond place in my heart. It’s an understatement to say that I had a great time, and I’ve never been so lucky to travel with some of the best people on this side of the world.

With two out of the four members of our traveling group gone, my friend and I made our way back to Moscow en route to St. Petersburg. Belarus (still a dictatorship!) has this inane rule where if you are traveling through the country, you have to buy an in-transit visa for an abominable fee. It was worth our while to go back to Moscow, since we thought we would be able to see Lenin. Last time we were in Moscow, Lenin was under reconstruction — they make him pretty every couple of years or so. So this time around, like children going to a candy store, we gleefully walked down Tverskaya to Red Square in order to see Lenin’s body. And then, like children realizing that the candy store has been demolished, we found out that we wouldn’t be able to see Lenin’s body because of День России (Russia Day). 2nd time in Moscow, 2nd time we’ve been disappointed. We’re going back to Moscow (and to Vladimir, too), and if I don’t see Lenin’s body, then I guess it is just not meant to be.

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Please stop.

Dear lecherous Russian men,

Please stop groping me on public transportation. Please stop groping me on the street. Please stop approaching me on my walk home and asking me if I want to get to know you* — because I don’t. Please don’t stagger after me and demand that I kiss you — because I won’t. And most of all, please stop approaching me in groups because that’s just frightening as hell.

Just because I’m not white doesn’t mean that I’m not human.

*Getting asked “Do you want to get to know each other?” is synonymous to “do you want to have sex?”

I realize that my last sentence may have not been clear. The following may be an overarching statement that isn’t entirely true, because I’m just basing it off my experiences. From what I’ve seen, foreign women (foreign in the sense of not being white) get harassed by men much more than their white counterparts. A pretty good example was when we were on the train from Kiev to Moscow, and my friend and I were lucky enough to have the last coupe to ourselves. There was a man from Azerbaijan who would walk back and forth from the smoking room to his coupe, and every time he would pass us, he would say something snarky to me, invite me to go smoke, invite me to go to the dining car, etc. He even stopped to just look at me, and this was when we were dozing. However, no pass was made to my friend, who is white.

I asked my host sisters, who are both half-Kazakh, how they dealt with the unwanted attention. They just sort of smiled and said, “We already got used to it. You have to as well.”

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