Captain's Log Day #42September 26, 2017 in Russia
Captain's Log. You're taking too long.
Not me. I'm going wonderfully slowly, though admittedly now find myself needing to cover 5000km in under three weeks, updating you though is taking too long so I'm cutting the past two weeks into some easy to manage chunks that will be light on details and hopefully straight to the point. it might end up like that previous sentence though.
Add in your own humour at will.
Old friends outside the city.
I stayed with my old hosts(/friends; "Anton" and "Polina") that live just outside the city.
Like last time we got drunk at their mate Vasily's bar. Also like last time he, Vasily, fired off question after question about me and my travels. Some of which he'd definitely already asked time though this time around he was a lot calmer and didn't need to be taken outside by Anton for a word multiple times. Second time around I've realised he's genuinely interested in hearing about the outside world and what a (russian speaking) foreigner has to say about things. I say that as he's never been over the border and has no personal interest in going for himself. He is still virulently patriotic, and proud of it, which is fine until it seems to blur his reasoning into "if it's Russian then its the best" (и ничего ещё важно кроме этого; and nothing else matters - apparently Russians love that song (Metallica) so I keep translating the lyrics to people. Not sure if Vasily does.)
Unlike last time Vasily's (he himself is 46 and previously married) lady friend was over with her 8 year old kid running around the bar with his friend. She seemed very impressed with my russian and much to our amusement took every opportunity to tell the five of us how understandable I was. At one point during our chat she wanted to show me a video of her daughter, who's studying in China, singing in a university show.
"Look, here she is singing with a nigger."
I didn't need to say anything both Anton and Polina has both told her not to use that word. She promptly used it again "...but he is?!"
Being slightly drunk I suggested it wasn't necessary and made people that use it seem like an idiot after which Anton turned and asked why they shouldn't use it as all it meant was "black"? "What word can we used? Can we say black?"
Being drunk and annoyed I attempted an explanation then suggested we just change the topic.
The next day me and Anton were sat chatting and having mulled it over all day I attempted again to explain why certain words were unacceptable after the opportunity was handed to same after I, for some reason, told Anton the alternative meaning for the word 'bitch'. He seemed slightly confused, maybe because my explanation didnt make sense, maybe because I was effectively suggesting he impose limits on himself based upon other people's interests (i.e. be tolerant), or maybe because I got too caught up in it and was chatting for far too long.
When met up again after I'd visited the island we got drunk again and, back at the house got chatting, this time with Polina as well, about the meaning of the word 'friendship'. To me it means, amongst other things, someone I can swear at without having to worry about it, which is something I haven't been able to do for 9 months. After learning a Russian swear words though I now swear in my head in russian. Unfortunately russian 'mat' is so strong, or at least the words I know, that they aren't meant to be used in such a way. Again this descended into a conversation about racism, at my doing. Long story short they both seemed to get what I was chatting about which both a) made me feel warm and fuzzy for having russian mates that got my culture and b) knowing that perhaps two more people in the world would now be less "racist" than before.
The next morning Vasily turned up and, as the water in his house wasn't working he'd started drinking instead. He has a bottle of beer (for sharing) and the girlfriend's kid in tow. Despite owning a bar Vasily seems to choose when to drink, e.g. he hadn't partaken the night before so unlike the rest of us, or at least me and Anton, was not hungover. In short Vasily also thinks young boys shouldn't cry, should be "men" and all that other good shit. He also said 'nigger' (for a reason that isn't relevant to this) which Anton again told him not to(!). I told him I couldn't be bothered with explaining, pick your battles, and he asked Anton if "We now needed to be tolerant?" At this point I decided to stop drinking as I might end up saying something unpleasant.
I'm not good at Tinder. That's what all the jokes were about way back when. The last time I was on the island though I did meet up with a tour guide who was, possibly, the only person online for miles around.
We went for a wander on the ice and chatted about, of all places, Wood Green (and Russia). She'd spent a summer at a language school somewhere near Holborn, had lived in Wood Green and loves Newkey (sp.) brown ale. Could've been the greatest Tinder romance ever.
Anyway. Me and Annika met up again this time to wander around the city. I got to hear her opinion on Russia this time which went a bit like this.
- Irkutsk is improving as people travel abroad and bring back ideas for things to implement at home e.g. There are loads of new, independent shops and cafes in the city that are often run by young(ish) people.
- The government is run by crooks who pocket lots of money but people also need to realise that not paying taxes prevents the country from developing and increases the rate of tax the government implements.
- People need to learn how the new system works, learn to help themselves and stop relying on the government to do things for them. As such the country will change when the older generations who haven't adjusted pass away. That's all the country needs though, time.
- People criticising Putin don't understand how hard his job is. Though he isn't a saint.
- Anyone who complains about unfairness in Russian society probably just wants to get rich quick, they aren't ready to put the work in to change their situation. Her view on it was that even people who got rich in the 90s did something to get there, maybe something illegal but they still had to work to get there, stay there (and stay alive).
- The thing people are most annoyed about isn't unfairness, it's that they haven't also had the opportunity to take advantage of the system. "Russians are lazy and if you give them an inch they'll take a mile". (Me paraphrasing.)
At this point Annika also said something about people in Europe being annoyed about immigrants who take advantage of the system so, as she's pretty fluent in English, I swopped over to that language to exasperate at all the one sided comments I'd heard about immigration that I'd listened to over the past month. After that Annika told me about her dislike of Russian history being turned into a nationalist toy (my phrasing) especially with regards to celebration of the "The Great Patriotic War".
It was through Annika that I got a lift to Olkhon (the island on Baikal) with a guy from Vladivostok who spoke far too quickly. He disliked taking about politics but at one point said he though Russian politics was different from British and that of other countries as they didn't have colonies or something else to do with that made them sound benevolent. After that I finally got round to buying a book about Russian Colonialism to find out if my hunch that "any country that gets that big and powerful isn't doing it with milk and cookies" is correct. Annoyingly it's only about colonising "the steppe" and doesn't talk about the east. [Having finished yet but basically sounds like the white man with the Russian accent thinks (thought) his way of living is so much better than everyone elses, sans cookies.]
Was as wonderful as last time.
On the island I met a guy from Baikalsk - one of the small run down looking towns we'd passed on the way to Irkutsk. When I got back he invited me to his home town, he now lives in Irkutsk, to show me around and give him a chance to practise his English.
Dima (33) had grown up in Baikalsk then left to study in Ulan-Ude then Irkutsk. On the drive over we were chatting about music. He mentioned Public Enemy and said he didn't want me to think that he supported black nationalists. I started trying to explain about white privilege then he (too) asked why we can't use the word 'nigger' and why protesters in America wanted to pull down the state of someone in some southern state when all he'd done is fight for his country? At this point I realised that, at least some, 'racism' in Russia is actually sort of amusing in its naivety. That's probably arrogant to say but it's better than me being annoyed all the time. It seems to be the case that "wonderful Russia" that's "so well educated and aware of the world" has literally never bothered explaining to its people why certain words are offensive to certain people, and why that matters in social discourse. Again maybe arrogant but I've spent too much time around arrogant russian nationalists so that's directed at them more than anything else.
I explained. He understood and made a point of correcting himself whenever he said it again. (+1 to the tally).
Baikalsk used to have a paper factory that, supposedly, pumped effluent into Baikal. There was a lot of (international?) press around it and it was eventually shut down three or so years ago, taking away a lot of jobs from a place that, I'm guessing, had already suffered a lost post-Communism.
After stopping off to dip our hands into the lake we arrived at his mum's house, dinner was on the table. It was like being in Pskov again. Russian parents do great hosting. :)
Despite both being employed, educated and "active", by which I mean Dima's mum loves elearning and hand-making decorations for the flat/friends/sale and Dima himself enjoys hiking, putting on parties in the woods in summer and other stuff they both openly lamented the former glory of the Soviet Period. It was mainly Dima that spoke about it, with some passion, but his mum seemed to agree with most of it.
- The current government are all thieves and crooks, Putin included.
- Gorbachev betrayed the country whilst Yeltsin sold his country out.
- The 80s weren't actually bad at all. There was lots of money just no products to spend them on however people in the East were happy. Everything was free (school, uni, skiing, etc.) and jobs were plentiful and assured (and you had an apartment etc. guaranteed). No one worried about money unlike now when everything costs, one example being the lakes we went to walk around that had a well trodden path you were expected to pay to use. We walked in through the woods. In short: perestroika and glasnost weren't needed.
- Countries in Eastern Europe are annoyed at Russia as they were part of a big system in which each country played it's part and now they don't get any help. (I suggested those countries might have their own view on things but this wasn't really welcomed. That said one of Dima's friends mentioned the Soviet tanks and the Prague Spring but thought Russian's had their own opinion on how necessary this was to keeping things going, or something like that).
- No one needs the EU as it makes life more expensive, they ripped apart Greece by burdening it with more and more debt and no ones ever benefited from being a part of it. (Again mention of Eastern European counties having a different view on things wasn't welcome - though he did say after that we were just chatting [rather than arguing]).
- In Dima's opinion the world would be much better if we all lived as one people, instead of separate countries, and things could be organised more efficiently for everyone.
The acquaintance getting out.
On my last night in the hostel I'd been staying in a bearded guy from Krasnoyarsk sat on the sofa next to me. It turned out he spoke English, very well, he'd just had no opportunity to practice for ages. We got chatting.
He was a project manager and sports events organiser who, after "having lived in russia long enough" was hopefully moving to New Zealand with his wife and kids. Their attempt to get to Canada and Australia hasn't worked out so five years down the line New Zealand was their last option. Something to do with his age (45) and the points system made his wife his route in, and she'd already received her visa so he had driven 1000km (14hrs) to sell the car. He quoted some Russian proverb that went something like "1000 versts isn't a crook for a mad dog"
In his opinion Russia was going downhill and, supposedly statistically, more and more people are trying to get out. Russian politics is a farce. There is no election next year. And Putin re-presidenting himself was a disgusting spectacle.
The sports centre he'd set up in Krasnoyarsk should have been really successful but the new local government aren't interested in helping out and the big bosses of the centre are more interested in the way the centre looks, and the fact they get a salary and prestige, than how the centre actually runs.
He was also trying to help correct my pronunciation, which no one ever does so kind of helpful.
Old friend on the phone.
I spoke to one of my mates for the first time in a long time. It was fun.
I've come to the conclusion that I've done sort of enough travelling on my own, over the past 8 years, and have no need to prove I can survive on my own or whatever other reason people have for doing this kind of thing. It'd be quite fun to travel with, as in not just to meet in passing, people. No idea when/how that'll happen and me and whoever it is may well get sick of each other after a week but the thought of doing so sounds somewhat more adventures than travelling alone.
Just gotta wait and see who that person (or persons) end up being as most people I already know aren't in a position to hit the road (or rocks).
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