Friday, August 31, 2012

Peter, Isaac and Prejudice

So we went to Peterhof, which I had been to before, and which was absolutely breathtaking. There's not that much more about it than that to say. Nature, fountains, gold, palaces, BEAUTY.

Today we went to St. Isaac's Cathedral in the center of St. P, which was actually closed the last time I was here but was open this time and was really cool. We did not go inside on the little guided tour but we went to the top, which was really beautiful. It was a stunning view of the entire city, 360 degrees because you can walk around it, and the weather was really nice today so that was fantastic just to relax and take in some sweeping, huge-scale views of just the prettiest damn city on the planet! :)

Today, Derek and I had the pleasure of accompanying chancellor Block (who was visiting along with several other UCLA faculty members) to the airport. Right on the edge of the river, Chancellor Block climbs into a taxi cab being driven by a man who does not speak a word of English and, without saying a word, in the back two seats enter two men with short hair, black jackets, jeans, and heavy-duty work shoes on - his body guards... or so it seemed to Professor David MacFadyen (UCLA) and any other Russian spectators who were outside the SPSU campus service entrance at around 2pm today. On the ride to the airport, our conversation was pretty much restricted to the Chancellor, discussing his time in Russia and our impressions, our living situations, and the program we are currently studying with. Maybe about 15 or 20 minutes into the drive, the driver decides to turn the volume of the radio, currently playing some sports recap and store report, up to an almost deafening volume. High enough that communication between Block (in the front passenger seat) and us (in the back seats) becomes extremely difficult. Derek and I do our absolute best to keep up with what the Chancellor is saying and we tactfully guess how to answer his questions, which we only knew were questions because we could hear the intonation shift in his voice, but it becomes nearly imposible. (Sorry if you're reading this right now by the way Chancellor :( ) I think we manage pretty well when, just as spontaneously as the first shift, the driver turns the volume back down and we continue our conversation as before. The drive really was not that bad, it didn't last particularly long, we got to the airport, escorted him inside, made sure he passed through the first metal detector alright and, essentially, sent him on his way. You may still be out there on a plane somewhere.... *back to the audience* he seemed like a veteran traveler and was pretty confident in his ability to get where he needed to go so I am not too worried.

The ride back, with only the cool kids, was kind of different. Immediately upon getting back into the taxi, it becomes clear that the driver is pretty cool. He starts right in with gregarious and witty banter, which is nice and gets us smiling. Then he starts to go a little crazy, he says some nice stuff about some stuff (mostly girls - russian) and some not so nice stuff about some stuff (mostly girls - american) and at one point hits a mental block (that's a shout out to you dad) and just stays silent trying to physically force this word out for like 20-30 seconds. Not to mention, this entire time he is either texting on his phone as he is driving or pulling up pictures of his daughter and her son to show us. Also, he has a gps unit that is connected to the taxi dispatch center which let out a decently loud (because it was plugged into the car stereo) beep when it updated the list of possible assignments and then would sound like someone SLAMMING on a typewriter when it would download the details of a job. So basically, here we were, the driver was texting with 1 hand and turning the steering wheel/shifting gears (a manual of course) with the other hand, screaming about girls, his gps on full blast "ching ching ching, ching ching ching, ching ching ching", and all the while, he would roll my window up every time I tried to roll it down without saying anything. It was a little chaotic :( But he took us where we wanted to go, took a little tip (thank you UCLA) and then went on his way. He was a pretty happy and nice guy

Ok so my dinner is waiting for me - chunks of chicken wrapped in bacon, meatballs, and potatoes (yeah... im in heaven) and I am pretty tired so I am going to go but I want to say at least one.... philosophical thing before I go:

At our orientation we were told an anecdote about how someone was in Russia once and they were sitting with their legs crossed on the metro late at night and an old woman actually came up to him and said "Uh... we don't sit like that here!" Now anyone that has been to Russia can totally imagine a little Russian grandma saying that, the interesting part to me is that Russia has all these little customs and ways of doing things that everyone knows and that if you do not do, everyone immediately knows you are a foreigner (for better or for worse). In the US, we don't really have an equivalent of that. I think we are so used to seeing and being around people from so many different backgrounds, from different countries and cultures that there isn't really anything I could think of that would make someone immediately and indefinitely stand out as a foreigner (except maybe a dude in capris....). They dont quite have that level of cultural diversity here and, if they do, they choose to ignore it. It's nothing big, volatile, or major but something interesting, that you can do a single action here and everyone will know you are a foreigner while holding your chopsticks wrong, not giving your place to an old woman on a bus, nothing can or would really do the same in the US.

Lastly, I played around with a few photos I took at Peterhof and St Isaac's (here) and uploaded a good amount of photos to my facebook, which I assume you all have.

Later guys :)

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