Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parks and a Little Recreation

Because the winters are long and the recession hit hard, St. Petersburg residents take every opportunity to be outside when it’s warm and going for walks is free. In September, my younger aunt, Anya and I went to two local parks. Elagin Island is entirely occupied by a park and Elagin Palace. The island is surrounded by nice neighborhoods and is a summer favorite. You can rent bikes, rollerblades, boats, and paddleboats. There are a couple of small/open air cafes, a little zoo, an archery range, and a pay-toilet. The tip of the island, with two freshly painted white lions, gives you a glimpse of the Bay of Finland.

Park Ekatirhof is different in that it’s become surrounded with a more industrialized neighborhood, which makes it less of a destination in and of itself. It’s fairly large and at its furthest end they even have horses. The park also has a few rides. The gate to the little “amusement park” was open and no one was there, so Anya and I went in. I think it was off-season, although the building for the keeper had the lights on. The rides were a gem, old Soviet era merry-go-rounds, swings, a kids’ rollercoaster, and a mini-course for mini-go-carts.

Seeing things that reminded me of my childhood made me want to relive it a little. So Anya and I got on one of the swings. These aren’t your motor-powered Six Flags swings; here you use the physics principle of taking turns squatting. Since Russians are good at physics, Anya and I got pretty high up in the air—perfect timing for someone to come and start yelling at us to get off the swings immediately. We responded that we had to stop the swing first, which we did.

When we got down the apparent groundskeeper approached us—middle-aged, short, fidgety, with a mouth full of gold caps which he flashed at us during all of his hurried yelling with a detectible and angry accent. Didn’t we know that we weren't supposed to use the rides, that we had to pay for them? We explained that the gate was open and the ticket booth, closed, and there were no signs or rules posted. He yelled that the gate had been closed and that we’d broken in and had to pay for the rides, or that he was going to call the cops. He’d actually closed and locked it while we were on this swings. We said call the cops, show us the price list, give us a receipt and we’ll pay. This went on for about five minutes until he finally unlocked the gate and let us go.

At this point it was almost dark so Anya and I left the park. We talked about it being clear that they guy had messed up, left the rides open, was angry that he’d failed to scare us into giving him cash. But we also admitted that during this, each of us had looked for holes in the fence where we could get out and run.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines Tiger New Years Day

In honour of Valentines Day and the Year of the Tiger Lunar New Year being on the same day: Looking at this fucking love connection (LATFH).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Butt End of My Summer

Since I’ve actually gotten around to putting some more recent pictures online, I should probably get around to letting you know some of the things I’ve been up to in my free time. Let’s do this chronologically.

End of August was spent reading/writing about several Shakespeare plays. I went for some walks around my neighborhood and read (again, Shakespeare) in the park by my house. My younger cousin, Sonya, introduced me to her friends—now my friends too. We went swimming and spent the weekend at a friend’s dacha.

Early September activities were put on hold because I pulled my back, trying to get my seat post into my frame. I went to IKEA to load up on hangers and storage accessories. First time biking in SPB city traffic. Let my friend try this weird “fixed-gear” thing. Did the whole job search, interview thing.

A friend did the plumbing and electrical work for installing a new washer in our apartment, for free. Unbeknown to my grandma, we, along with another dude friend, went out drinking the night before he finished the installation. We bough vodka and juice and my friends thought it might be too conspicuous to sit outside and mix it in plastic cups—how it’s usually done in Russia. Here, my USA party time skills came in handy—“Just mix it in the juice bottle; everyone will think we’re drinking juice!” My friends liked this novel idea. So we took our juice bottle on Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in the city.

This is when “the incident” happened. The three of us were standing at a crosswalk and as a group of guys walked by; I turned around and did a quick ass-grab. So, I’ll admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve committed the offense (e.g. Skoal Kodiak @ Art O’Whirl 2009). All fun and games, right? The guy turned around and did the gruff Russian equivalent of “Excuse me?!” He’d thought that one of the guys had done it—which meant a fight. When I saw my friend’s alarmed face, I fessed up. The guy looked a mix between dumbfounded and skeptical so I had to explain that I did it just for fun. This got me an insistent invite to “trade up” to his company if my friends weren’t “man enough”. I politely turned down what I think was the offer for a potential gang bang. Then we went to my handyman friend’s house and after putting him to bed proceeded to go to an all night sushi cafĂ© where we talked about male culture in Russia, but that’s a topic for later.

The lesson learned here? None for me, thanks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

May I See Your Documents?

While Russians may have fewer of many things that Americans (money, shoes, cars, etc.) passports are not one of them. This is because Russians have not one but TWO passports. I’ll give you the rundown on official Russian documents, because I frequently find myself having to explain the details of this overwhelmingly fascinating topic.

Every Russian is supposed to have an internal passport, which according to the RF is “the main document proving the identity of a Russian citizen in the Russian Federation territory.” You apply and renew your passport at 14, 20, and 45. It contains all that basic bio-demo info like name, gender, DOB, and place of birth. However, it also includes your place of registration (permanent address), marriage(s)/divorce(s), children under 14, notes about the issue of a travel passport, military service, tax id (optional), and blood-type (optional).You can even use it to travel to some exotic places like Kazakhstan.

For travel to most other countries, Russians need at least their travel, or external, passport. It’s the passport Russians need when exiting and entering Russia. Works much like a US passport—exit/entry stamps, visas, etc. Renewed every five years. Those under 14 don’t have their own passport, but are instead included in one of their parents’ travel passport. As of March 2010, all new external passports will be biometric (with an electronic chip).

Easy enough to explain, right? Now trying explaining the system of passports, state id’s, and drivers’ licenses to someone who’s not from the US.