Jan 22, 2008

Ребёнок 2007-ого года (On East and West)

Hey everyone, more great news - I figured out my role in Russian history. I know, I know... you're all saying, "You haven't done anything important," and "you're not even Russian," and "I don't care about you, pal, just make with the funny pictures." As always, I'll try to make it quick. Today's story is also a history lesson:

1812: Returning victorious from the Napoleonic wars, Russian officers cross through what was once forbidden territory - Western Europe. They bring home dangerous ideas, like individual rights, separation of church and state, and republicanism. Thirteen years later, they lead the failed Decembrist revolt against Nikolai I. The Tsar kills some, imprisons more, and sends the bulk to a distant, icy corner of the empire called Irkutsk.

1945: Returning victorious from Berlin, the Red Army notices that the communist paradise at home, in certain ways, isn't quite as nice as the capitalist hell in Western Europe. They don't complain, but Stalin had read his history books - many are still arrested and shipped to Siberia as a precaution. (At this point, descendants of the Decembrists had already touched the place up, so Irkutsk is bypassed in favor of much more distant, much icier corners of the union.)

2007: Silly American student Djozef escapes to Scandinavia for winter break. There, Jøseph learns why the "Spend a Semester in Scandinavia!" pamphlets moved a lot faster than the "True Russian Experience" pamphlets in the study-abroad office at home. Visiting with his family, he spends a week in a state of Progress-induced shock. Vladimir Putin doesn't take much notice, but Djozef, responsible citizen that he is, sends himself to Siberia, where as of this writing its -27 degrees outside.


I know how much you all liked the last quiz, so here's another. There are six rounds. Each round will have a few pictures - at least one from Russia, and at least one from Scandinavia. You are to guess which pictures were taken where. The winner can have my breakfast for the rest of the semester.

Round 1: "Getting Around"

Jøseph and his mother, reading the menu on the silent but speedy bullet-train.

The tri-lingual attendant told us where the free water, juice, and fruit were, as well as the many emergency exits. Don't guess yet...

Djozef lived in this box for four days. Note the two drunk Ukrainians. (not pictured - four more drunk Ukrainians)

Okay, that was an easy one. Round 2: "Bon Appetit!"

When the drunken Ukrainians found these forgotten persimmons under the bed, the logical response would have been, "that is gross." They ate them, and were kind enough to share with Djozef. This picture comes nowhere near grasping the real disgustingness of the fruit; i picked it more for my look of despair.

Are you guessing where? There's scoring at the end, so write down your answers...

Round 3: "To protect and serve"

Suffer in style, in this state-of-the-art converted Volvo-ambulance. Also, a story: in either Russia or Scandinavia, a fire alarm went off in Jøseph's hotel. Every single guest hastily but politely filed out onto the street, where three firetrucks were already waiting. It's a hint: that happened in the same country as this picture.

In either Russia or Scandinavia, such modern and efficient services aren't within the budget. As an alternative, this device was invented - the Funny Story phone!

Round 4: "Follow the Rules!"

"No popsicles or bananas on the bus, please!"

"Your car will plunge into a river."

Round 5: "Boys will be boys"

This political statement was painted, in either Russian or Danish, on the wall where Djozef lived. It says "Death to Capitalism."

This one is directly on Djozef's building, it reads "Die American Scum." **

Uh oh... the kids are rebelling, in one of these two places...

Round 6: "Point A to Point B"

In either Russia or Scandinavia, an orderly line of 10 Mercedes taxis waited for incoming passengers at the airport. There was no bargaining or choosing to be done, passengers simply sat in the first taxi in line. The rates are set. Don't worry if you don't have any (Rubles/Danish Kroner), the credit card swipe is next to the GPS.

This may be the best picture on the whole blog. In Russia or Scandinavia, there is an innovative transportation system called the Marshrutnoe Taxi. In any English-Russian-Danish dictionary it translates to "Route Taxi," though I would translate it more as "Crash Taxi." They weave all over the city on set routes, stopping at hand signals, or when passengers yell at the driver. They're fast, because the driver personally benefits from the number of passengers. They're actually very efficient, but do tend to crash all the time. My only regret is that the lighting doesn't allow you to see the passengers getting out.


Well, thanks for playing, everyone. The answers are:

If it's funny for you, but probably uncomfortable/bizarre/dangerous for me: Russia
If it's funny for you, and everyone feels good in the end: Scandinavia

And the scoring:

If you got them all right: Nobody's impressed pal, most of them were really easy.
If you got any wrong: Welcome to my blog! Feel free to browse through old entries, and get yourself acquainted with life in Irkutsk!


And welcome back, for semester number 2 in Irkutsk - the most peaceful, friendliest, sunniest place I've seen in all of my Russia-travels (seriously). I successfully dodged the Mongolian-exile bullet, with help from our coordinator here in Irkutsk (send your thanks to her, mom), and I'm officially, legally registered here in the Russian Federation. And after a good long period of doubt, I'd still rather be here than in Stockholm for a semester. Don't let the pictures fool you, Russia is still the second-finest country in the world. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When my family left, my life did feel a little bit miserable, and a little bit like Groundhog Day. Except instead of one wacky holiday, it's five long months. And instead of small-town America, Siberia. And instead of a heart-warming love-story, I just get yelled at a lot and have my crap stolen from me. So I was pretty unhappy on the train ride back to Irkutsk; even the fresh fruit didn't lift my spirits.

But as always, Russia took me back, and surprised me with its (100% figurative) warmth. I got off the train and felt comfortable, and of course knew where everything was, how to get home, etc. My señora was really happy to see me, and has been kind and positive as always, even under an amount of stress that would crush your average American. I've had nothing to do, as classes haven't started, so I've seen just about every play, concert, and museum in the city, and even made it out to see the (amazing) frozen Baikal. Expect pictures soon. So, as of 10:50 A.M., Frozen-Wasteland Standard Time, on January 31st, I think I'll make it through the semester.

Of course I'm not completely fooled - I'm finally, more or less comfortable in the culture, my language is functional, and my life seems calm... so expect some sort of enormous disaster before the next entry. And wanna see a picture of the newest, most unpleasant challenge?

See where it says "Feels like: N/A"? That's because nobody has ever felt anything like it before, Weather.com is at a loss for words. The day before I arrived it was -40, but luckily I got to spend that day in the train with the Ukrainians.

But anyway, there it is, all of winter break, summarized in one entry. I'm doing well at the moment, but still... if it is Groundhog Day, it is insanely cold outside right now, and i am starting to miss home. So I hope I get it right this time!


** there is some debate about this translation. Some linguists would say it translates closer to "Quick Shoe Repair."


beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beth said...

joey, last year i, too, discovered persimmons. except instead of finding them rotting under my train seat, i bought them in sunny napa valley. they looked just like the ones in your photo except that they were perfectly cut and stacked in dehydrated layers, wrapped in a cello bag and tied with a pretty red gros grain ribbon from dean and deluca. similar experience.

Jack F said...

Osya, more likely it's "Quick / while you wait shoe repair."

Ivan'ich in Harpswell

Tacky said...

Hi Joey,

I am your sister Annie's most spectacular friend. She sends me links to your blog, which I read with great pleasure. Rarely do I laugh aloud when reading, but "Feels Like: N/A" did the trick. Apparently I am meeting you this summer. Keep up the updates and don't turn into a popsicle.

Anonymous said...

wow, leo's right.

Berta said...

The picture with you and the produce made me giggle!!

Loon of the Compound said...

Где была машина анекдотов?!-Соня