Tag Archives: alcohol

Make babies for the good of your country. And for Lenin.

A couple of years ago, Putin described the rapidly decreasing birth rate as a serious, national problem. Coupled with the increasingly high death rate and the low life expectancy (both of which are partly in due to alcohol), Russia’s national population is faltering. Also throw in the fact that women use abortion as birth control into the mix, and it’s understandable why the population is supposed plunge by a million or so within the next 10 years.

So what is Russia to do? Well, have government-endorsed sex, of course.

Do it for the Motherland.

Nashi, a Kremlin-run youth movement, organizes a procreation camp, where young people are heavily encouraged to have sex and babies for the good of the Motherland. At a mass wedding, the organizers said, “Remember the mammoths. They became extinct because they did not have enough sex. That must not happen to Russia.”

It doesn’t stop at procreation camps! Oh no! In the Ulyanovsk region, they have had a conception holiday for the past five years now. Governor Sergei Morozov declared September 12th as the day to “Give birth to a patriot.”

I don’t think that Russia has a problem with having too little sex. There’s nothing wrong with having an absurd amount of sex and babies. But Russia’s bigger problem is that, with its terrible health care and terrible life style, Russia has an obscenely higher death rate in comparison to other civilized countries. Russia’s pharmaceuticals are painfully lagging and its medicine is laughed at and considered backwards. From drinking alone, Russia’s male population is nose diving. The government can encourage sex to its hearts’ desire, but if they truly want to fix the population problem, they’re going to have to focus on not just creating children, but saving their lives in the long run. Tackle the drinking problem, which is no easy feat. Tackle the booming AIDS problem, which is one of the fastest growing epidemics in civilized country.

*I’d also like to point out that “Give Birth to a Patriot” Day falls on my birthday.


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Don’t drink and swim

The streets of St. Petersburg have transformed into an outdoor banya, except with no snow to cool down in. And I feel like I’m slowly losing my mind as I stew in a pool sweat and mosquitoes inside a stuffy classroom. Russia’s experiencing one of the worst heatwaves in decades — the locals have rechristened the country as Africa. it’s not terrible, in the sense that it hasn’t reached over 100 (at least, in Petersburg, it hasn’t), but keep in mind that it rarely gets this hot. (In other areas, such as Siberia, Moscow, and southern Russia, it gets over 40 C in the shadows.) But it’s terrible in the sense that Russians escape the heat by swimming…and drinking. Unfortunately, in the reverse order. In the past week, there have been over 200 deaths from drinking and drowning. The heat’s also destroyed an absurd amount of crops. Russia’s in a state of emergency, since the heat wave doesn’t look like it’s about to end.

I would consider this a health crisis — with no end in sight, Russians are still going to take to the beach and arm themselves with alcohol. It’s fun to drink, and it’s even more fun to drink on the beach, so why not? But it’s difficult to gauge how much one is drinking, especially in the tortuous heat. I’m sure that Russians have been drinking and swimming for centuries, but the heat has never been this bad. They just don’t realize how quickly they’re dehydrating and that they’re replenishing themselves with 40 proof alcohol. In June, 1200 people died from drowning, and I can only imagine that the numbers are going to be significantly higher by the end of July.

What’s the solution going to be? Tell Russians to stop drinking? That’s sure as hell not going to happen. Raise the price of vodka again is a possibility, but that would probably just mean that more Russians would turn to good old-fashioned samogon — moonshine. I don’t know. All I know is it’s going to be pretty devastating if the weather doesn’t cool down soon.

Instead of drinking vodka, Russians should just gorge on ice cream. I think it's a good compromise.

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The Baltics: Really Adorable

My apologies for the somewhat prolonged hiatus. I have just returned to St. Petersburg from Moscow, the last stop on our trip. In order to avoid the obscenely long blog post, I’m going to break up my documentation of the Eastern Eurotrip into three parts: the Baltic countries, Poland, and Ukraine. So first up — the Baltics!

Having just finished the spring semester, my friends and I respectively dropped our grammar books, jumped on a bus, and headed over to Tallinn, Estonia. After living in a big Russian city for four months, we were immediately thrown off by the friendliness and the cleanliness that we encountered in all the Baltic countries. Our group took advantage of the fact that each city was particularly walkable. With a bottle of cheap beer in one hand, a bottle of even cheaper vodka in the other, and low-grade energy drinks (with names like Revo, Jaguar, Tiger, and Generic Energy drink, you can’t lose!) bulging out of our pockets and bags, we set off to explore the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Tallinn, Estonia. In front of the tallest waterfall in the Baltics...which is only 8 meters tall. Can someone say underwhelming?

Some of the more memorable sights in each country were the Museum of Occupation in Riga and the KGB museum in Lithuania. Slightly depressing, to say in the least. I can’t even begin to describe how unbelievably creepy it was to be in a former KGB prison. However, in my humble opinion, Riga and Vilnius didn’t present themselves as martyred and cowed cities. Instead, they presented their Soviet history in an eerily calm manner. “Yes, the USSR did some terrible things, but that’s behind us…so let’s move on.”

Riga, Latvia

Even though we were only in each city for two days, the impression that I got was that unlike most Post-Soviet things, the Baltics did not crumble, but instead, have emerged from the Soviet yoke. And while they still face economic and social hardship, things are looking positive. Hell, even the Lat (Latvian currency) is doing better than the dollar, and that’s after just having emerged from some crazy debt. That’s something to be said.

Overall, each Baltic city was charming in its own way. From the adorable Estonian language (pood means store) to the cobble-stoned Old Towns to the extraordinarily friendly inhabitants, our time in the Baltics was a particularly enjoyable one. Add obscene amounts of alcohol on top of that, and you can sort of imagine what our 6 days were like.

One of the few things that I noted with distaste was the ex-pat community living in Estonia. The people who ran our hostel in Estonia were Australians who had been living there for two years or so. Yet, they had absolutely no grasp of the language and had no intention of learning it either. It was my understanding that ex-pats leave their country in order to, I don’t know, experience something new. But instead, they just crowded together and created a new little Australia/US and didn’t bother to actually live in the country that they were currently working in. Perhaps I am being too harsh. Or perhaps I am still somewhat bitter, because they conned us out of $20. Losing 20 bucks, unfortunately, was not the worst thing that happened to us, since we got stopped by the police in Ukraine. But that’s another story for later.

More pictures

The most violent seat belt safety sign ever. If you don't wear your seatbelt, not only will your head explode, but the guy sitting in front of you will also explode. bloodily.

A view of Tallinn from the top of some ancient wall

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Gypsy cabs are frightening

It was my fault for catching the metro late last night back to Sennaya. I ran from Sennaya to the marshrutka stop, and was crest-fallen (read: freaking out) to see that the marshrutka was no longer running. It was inhumanely cold out and I felt like the only other people out were drunks and lecherous men. It’s definitely walk-able from the metro back to my apartment, but because I lack all sense of direction, I decided against it. Also, it’s a 25 minute walk and it was so cold that the inside of my nose froze, and I’m a wuss.

So I did what my program told me explicitly not to do – I hailed a chastniki (a gypsy cab).

Part of the fun is not knowing what's going to happen!

After running around the marshrutka stop like an idiot, I saw an old Soviet lada with a faded yellow sign on top pull into the stop where the #195 marshrutka usually drops people off. I intrepidly knocked on the window, and he motioned me to come in. Wishing that I didn’t take that last vodka shot, I mumbled my address, trying to swallow my endings and not sound too much like a foreigner. Unfortunately, my attempts were in futile, and I ended up stuttering and probably sounded stupidly intoxicated. The driver stared at me for what felt like 10 minutes and simply said “500 rubles.” No haggling, no negotiations, nothing. It does not cost 500 rubles ($15) to go from Sennaya to where I live. What could I have done? I was all alone, I didn’t know my way home, and was in no position to try and haggle. I agreed, and the cab took off.

However, he took off in a very roundabout direction, and was going a certain way that I was not accustomed to. I got a deep, sinking feeling in my stomach. Horror stories about drivers holding passengers at knife-point swirled around in my clouded head. The driver began to literally drive in circles around my apartment…or at least, that’s what it seemed like, since nothing looked familiar. It took at least 20 minutes longer than it would have normally taken. The driver must have been having a fun time messing with my head. He finally arrived at my apartment building and grinned at me. I literally threw the 500 at him and bolted. He shouted Счастливо! (all the best!) after me, and sped away.

I told my host mother about it this morning, and she gently admonished me and told me that it was not out of the ordinary for taxi drivers to prey on foreigners who don’t know any better, and that it’s easy to get ripped off at night. Then, I told her how he drove about in a roundabout way, and she smiled at me, and simply told me that there are many different ways to get here. I’m apparently stupid. Without saying anything, her smile also hinted at the fact that I need to be working on my phonetics homework more so I can pronounce things clearly and hopefully not fall prey to tricky taxi drivers again. Although, that will be difficult, since my face pretty much gives it away that I’m not Russian.

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