Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Perhaps two of my favorite pictures from this past weekend:

Monday, October 8, 2012

X-Treme Russia

This weekend I had, perhaps, my most brilliant idea ever (even though Ithaca and I decided that the whole weekend seemed like the perfect setting for a horror film about Americans who end up getting killed in the Russian countryside).
What follows is a recounting of our amazing Russian adventure…

The Characters
The Americans:
Meganka (Me)-The one from the very hot place.
Dylan- The one from the place that no one has ever heard about.
Ithaca- The one from Old Russia
The Russians:
Jenya- A Russian engineer finishing up his degree at VSUES. He has helped to plan and create a system of atomization in the assembly line for Russian car companies.
Sasha- A 25 year old woman who has lived in Vladivostok for all of her life and has a two year old son.
Alexander (Sasha)- The friend, and colleague, of Jena.
Julia- The girlfriend of Alexander.

The Back Story
Thursday night my friend, Jordan, came into my room and wanted to warm up some Russian milk, add sugar to it, and then drink it so that we could sleep off more of our sickness. We soon realized that they had already closed the kitchens for the night, and so we went on a mission to try and find a hot water heater or a microwave. As luck would have it, when we were in one of the other American's room, we ran into a Russian by the name of Jenya. Jordan had previously met him, but he was super excited to meet another American, and he proceeded to ask me a million questions. Once he found out that we wanted warm milk but had not way to heat it, he had us follow him to his room where he quickly started taking care of us. He heated our milk, and then when we were done with that he washed our cups and made us tea. He made sure we were comfortably seated, and as soon as I coughed one too many times, he forced me to take some medicine that would make my throat feel better.
Eventually, Jordan and I told him that we needed to go to sleep finally. But, before we could leave, he said something to Jordan and next thing I knew I had promised him that I was going to go somewhere with him on Saturday. When we left the room, I asked Jordan what had just happened, and she told me that I was going to go to some Russian cabin out in the country side, although even she wasn't that sure where. {She wanted to come along but this weekend she had to fly to Moscow to take the it wasn't really an option for her}.
Friday, I receive a text from Jenya telling me that I should check my e-mail because he's sent me some more information about our adventure. And after reading it, I got very excited. Roughly translated I had been invited along to stay at a little bed in breakfast type place near by an old mountain, which millions of years ago had been underwater and was a huge coral reef. The plan was to go explore some of the caves and then see a waterfall before heading back to Vladivostok on Sunday.
So I quickly convinced my confidants (Dylan and Ithaca- who almost stupidly backed out because they often think my ideas suck), and we all, somewhat wearily, decided that we would see where Jenya (a Russian guy that I had just met and they had never seen) was going to take us.

Act I
8:10 AM, Jenya came to my room and I introduced him to Dylan and Ithaca before we followed him to his Prius, which was parked outside of the university. Thankfully, Jenya was so excited that we were Americans and he was very patience that we were able to talk in a mixture of broken Russian and English as we started driving away from Vladivostok. He told me that we had to stop to pick up another girl on our way, and so next thing we know we’re driving on some back road with a mixture of different shack type houses and cute little country homes with gardens along the side. Eventually, on the left there was a girl standing by the fence with some bags and she hopped into the car. Her name was Sasha.
From Sasha’s house, we make our way back the highway and stop at a grocery store to get food for the weekend. Here there was some confusion, as Ithaca Dylan and I didn’t know if we were each buying our own food or if one person was going to buy a lot and then get reimbursed, but our sub-par Russians skills eventually cleared it all up. However, as we were carrying the food out of the store, Sasha and Jenya both realized that we had nothing good to drink. So we went back into the store for some ‘Russian drinks’ and some juice.
In the parking lot, we met up with Alexander and Julia, and Dylan hopped into their car. This was the true beginning of our adventure.

Act II
None of us really knew where we were going exactly, or how long it was going to take, but I mentioned to Sasha that I definitely would need to pee before we got too far on our way, so we took a pit stop at a roadside café/kiosk. We took some time to eat some sandwiches and drink some tea, and then we were soon driving deep into the Russian country side.
Jenya was a wonderful conversationalist, and we talked about everything from genetically modified food to our hobbies. He and Sasha I think really like the opportunity to practice some of their English.
Then, randomly, Jenya pulled off on the side of the road next to these twiggy trees that had hundreds of small strips of fabric tied into them. They explained to us that it’s a Russian tradition to make a wish and then tie a piece of fabric on a limb of one of the trees. So that’s exactly what we did.  

Once we got back in the cars…we got lost. Thankfully, however, Alexander asked these people on a motorcycle for directions and they led us to the correct ‘road.’


After pretty successfully driving their small cars though all the puddles and divots, we came to a river. This being Russia, the bridge over the river would have killed the underside of most cars, so the next best option in front of us was to drive the cars across the river. I was very nervous and was half expecting this to be where we would have to turn around and give up our countryside holiday. But someone was smiling down on us and both cars made it across the river like it was no big deal.

And thankfully not too far after our forging of the river, we made it to our destination!

Act IV
While I still don’t really know the name of the place we were at, we all piled our stuff into our room and a very nice Russian woman, who was one of the owners of the place, showed us all around the property. She told us that we had arrived too late in the day to be able to do all the hiking we had planned on, but we decided that we would cook some food and then go on a three mile hike.
This was one of the times where I really wished my Russian was better than it was because I felt like the Russians were just taking care of us and we couldn’t do anything to help because we had no idea what was really going on. But we did start trying to make some form of conversation over the meal.
Before we left on our hike, the owner of the B&B (for lack of a better name) sat us down and drew us three different maps of where we could go hiking, and I think she was explaining all the cool things we would see. It was perhaps one of my favorite moments of the weekend because it was just funny to watch a bunch of us huddled around a woman drawing crazy lines and circles and mountain like things on paper. 

But, with our professionally drawn maps, we headed out in the forest, with everything from extra layers to flash lights in case we didn’t make it back before dark.
Act V
It’s hard to describe the places we went on our hike, especially since us Americans really had no idea what our final destination was/if we had a final destination, but it was great fun to just follow a bunch of Russians around. Eventually, after climbing up the steepest path up a mountain I may have ever seen, we were able to explore a few caves and just enjoy the amazing view.

During the whole hike we had a lot of good conversations about movies and different animals that live in our respective countries. We would teach the Russians a word in English for every new word we learned in Russian. One of the more memorable lessons include us trying to explain to the Russians that in English you have cheeks on your face, but you also have cheeks on your butt. They got a kick out of that, let me tell you.
I also got my own firsthand experience with Russian chivalry. So I had brought my small over the shoulder purse to carry my camera, some flash lights, and our passports in case we died and our bodies needed to be identified. However, about halfway through the hike Jenya decided that I could no longer carry my purse, and he carried it for me the rest of the way up the mountain and all the way to our room. Once I tried to take it from him, but he immediately took it back and told me it was nothing for him. As we were climbing down the mountain, which was perhaps ten times more dangerous and difficult than climbing up it, Jenya also let me use him as support so that I didn’t slip and roll away. And at any point if you were too far behind all the Russians would constantly call back and ask if you were ok. Just another example of how kind Russians are.
Act VI
Once we successfully got back to our temporary home just a little after dark, we started the relaxing part of our weekend. We buddled up in our coats and headed outside to cook shaslik, which is pretty much the Russian version of BBQ but without the sauce. This is also when the toasting to new friends and our amazing day began. 

And after we finished eating as much shaslik as our stomachs could possible handle, it was time for our first official Russian banya experience, which is basically like a sauna, but not.
Imagine wrapping yourself in a thin sheet and entering a small room with two stoves and having 200 degrees F of heat slap you in the face. I’ve never been in such a hot environment where it was hard to breathe before. Inside, they also have a bunch of branches with leaves on them that they dip in water and whack each other on the back with, which looks like some awful flogging technique but actually feels like a nice massage. However, any banya experience is not complete without also jumping into a cold body of water. So, Ithaca, Julia, and I all got up the guts to run outside after getting nice and toasty in the banya and we dove head first into a freezing cold pool. We then quickly put our sheets back on and ran back into the banya, which at that point felt like the perfect temperature.
When we weren’t sweating all of the water out of our bodies, we continued to toast with the Russians, discuss anything we could figure out how to explain, and sing/dance to a mixture of English and Russian songs. Dylan and I both had to make toasts at one point, and thanks to our wonderful Russian teachers back at Lewis and Clark we didn’t make a fool or ourselves. Dylan toasted the end of the Cold War, which all the Russians thought was pretty funny, and I toasted the beautiful Russian nature that we had spent all day exploring, which they thanked me for. Success


The next day we cooked up some mushrooms the Russians had found in the woods, with some potatoes, and then packed up and headed back to Vlad. Needless to say, Ithaca and slept a fair amount of the way back. But when I was sleeping, Jenya and I continued to try and talk about things. One of the more interesting things we talked about was Russian sky-diving. It’s only 30 dollars here. 

Perhaps it will be our next adventure???

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This One Time in Vladivostok...

1. My roommate, Katya, invited some of us Americans to a cafe. From what I understood after talking to her, we were all going to hang around, eat some cookies, drink some juice, and look at some of her artwork on display there.
What we actually ended up doing, though, was going to a cafe (where there were cookies and juice, so at least I understood that correctly) and sitting through a informal 'Learn English' class for Russians. While it was not what I was expecting at all, it was actually pretty fun to help explain why we say the things that we do. And after the lesson, we exchanged some info with a few people, and I even got to jam on the guitar. Eventually, Katya was saying that she will have some of her artwork on display really I knew what she was talking about...kind of.

2.  Jordan, one of the other Americans, and I went to a bar not far from campus to celebrate Katya's brother's birthday. And while this time there wasn't any lacking information in my translation, our night was not without its fair share of surprises. First, that Russian apparently like to take their own tip from the change that they give you back at the bar. Secondly, (and probably only a shock to me since she's already been to Russian several times) because Jordan is African American, everyone and their mother tried to dance with, like, or on her at some point of the evening. And lastly, that Russians love to гулять. It doesn't matter what time of day or night (in our case 4 am), Russian will stroll with no particular destination in mind and no other desire than to walk. 
{As an aside, let me just say that on principle I actually really like thier love of гулятьing. But that evening, Jordan and I had everything against us. Both of us were kind of feeling under the weather. Jordan was wearing heels. And we had a whole 2 hours to гулять in the somewhat chilly Vladivostok air before we were going to be able to get back into the dorms.}

3. I got decently sick, and all of my Russian teachers have given me their own versions of health advice. It does get overwhelming sometimes now to have teachers randomly stop me in the hallway  or interrupt class to ask me how I'm feeling and if I have enough medicine with me, but I will always love how much the Russians care about you if you're under the weather. It's kind of like have 10 moms...only we don't really speak each others languages very well... 

4. We went to the center and celebrated that Day of the Tiger! It was so exciting to see all the people, of all ages mind you, dressed up in crazy tiger costumes or ridiculous orange outfits. We even got to see a cute group of Russians girls sing and dance to a few songs. Afterwards, we decided to stick around for the rock concert in the evening. And, let me tell you, after eating a very interesting version of a cheeseburger, we experienced on heck of a show. We saw three bands, with each one only being allowed a set of two songs. It almost had a battle of the bands feel to it, and there was a nice mix of Russian and American songs. But what really took the cake was the the totally unexpected cover of the Ghost-busters song. Never have I ever thought I would see a crowd go that wild for that song. Great fun.

5. I had to explain (in Russian) to one of my fellow peers who is from Korea, that, contrary to the John Denver song Country Road, West Virginia is NOT almost heaven, and that he should maybe rethink the places he wants to visit when he comes to America. {These are the little things that keep me going}

More Stories and Pictures to come....