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April 2008

give me a ticket for an airplane..

due to complications i'd rather not go into, i wasn't able to leave vlad like i thought i would this week.  so we'll see what happens in the upcoming week.  everything leading up to my departure was preplanned well in advance, however i let one detail go unchecked and it cost me when i tried to go through immigration.  but through the whole process of leaving the country for vacation, i have to say i felt more frustrated with myself than anyone else. 

so after my visa problem, i started working damage control. i was still at the airport. i had to grab my checked bags, change my ticket, work out the details on my visa, find a phone, and get a ride back home.  getting my bags was no problem since i had my claim check.  after that i walked outside to think for a minute and find a phone.  a taxi pulled up and the driver asked if i needed a ride.  i knew i would but wasn't ready to leave yet.  my first mistake was asking how much to go back to the city.  he was a little too quick with the reply and said "2000 roubles" which works out to $80US.  i thanked him and passed.  unfortunately, he wanted to haggle.  now i was not only upset i wasn't on a plane for the states, but now had to deal with a cabbie that followed me on foot everywhere i went.  after several minutes of me looking for a public phone i happened to walk by someone speaking english.  i asked if i could make a local call to my office.  they lent me the phone and i put a call into work.  after telling work what had happened, i also asked what's the going rate for a cab from the hotel.  750 was a rate used by the hotels, but i knew that was a deal between the cabbies and the hotel.  so the next time i bumped into my cabbie (i didn't have to go far) i told him i pay only 1000 or $40US.  i should mention here that the cabbie didn't speak english so i have only been speaking in russian.  well, 1000 wasn't the answer he wanted to hear and he began the argument anew with the cost of benzine and parking fees.  after awhile it dawned on me that 1000 was going to be fine, if it was that much of an insult he would have walked away long ago.  i even asked another cabbie for a quote and got the standard 2000, so much for competition.  the bus is only 70 ($3US) but would take a couple hours.  the cab ride would take an hour.  as i started contemplating the bus, the cabbie finally said ok, 1000.  i didn't believe him and thought there's gotta be a catch.  maybe i'll get halfway home and he'll ask for more.  well, i had to get a ride eventually so i agreed.  after i got in the cab with my bags, i realized i hadn't changed my ticket yet. now i'd have to get the cabbie to come with me or haul my bags back to the korean air counter.  it was easier to just tell him i forgot something with my ticket and we needed to go see them.  fortunately, i caught a break and found the same woman from KA that helped translate between immigration and myself eariler.  she changed the ticket to a later date and i was off with the cabbie again. 

the last item to figure out was telling the cabbie where i needed to go.  i gave him one of the hotels as a reference and as we got into the city, i said i want to go to a different destination instead.  he was a bit confused but i got the point across that i would just show him with saying left or right in russian.  since my street is an unpaved road, not many cabs know where it is.  so it's easier to go with the main road and then just tell a driver where to turn. 

i finally made it home. the driver tried once last time to ask for 1200.  but i said no 1000 was all i agreed to pay.  what i paid him would net him at least 4-5 round trips to the airport for more fares.  so he was doing alright. 

after i dropped my bags off at home, some friends, understanding my disappointment, took me out for a few beers and i got to take my mind off the problem for awhile.

these boots are made for walking


before coming to russia, i had heard women's footwear tends to be of the high heel variety. now that i'm here and see it first hand, i have to agree. i was amazed at how they can walk in them through snow, ice and rain. i almost fell over once just wearing my dress shoes when i slipped on an icy curb. anyway, my hats off to them.

i've almost finished my packing for my trip home. i'm giving myself a couple days extra to remember anything i might have overlooked. i'm excited to pack for a 100% casual trip. usually i have to include attire for training or work. so this time they'll be plenty of extra space in my bags to for stuff i'll buy back in the states.

another busy weekend ahead. i'm meeting a friend for coffee today and also getting together with an american friend that's going to be leaving russia by the time i return from holiday. sunday has been set aside for giving a visiting coworker a tour of the city in the afternoon. i still have a few little side trips to the store i'd like to fit in sometime. before i know it i'll be on a plane again.

republic - from the dark to the bright

i found the 'republic' is one of the best places to go grab a meal and a drink. so far vlad has three locations.  i've gone several time to the one near work for lunch. they serve cafeteria-style food so it does give you the feeling you're back in high school.  and sometimes i wonder what that strange stew is next to the mashed potatoes or mixed vegetables.  i've never had any problem with the selection.  although one of my friends did get sick on a salmon pattie-thing once.  there's amble seating space that spills over into the bar, which serves both coffee and alcohol.  i've been there for the evening rush and it's always busy, but usually you can snag a table within a few minutes. 

the republic that's fartherest away, has more of a dining hall theme to it with covered tables and traditional menus (only in russian).  i've had a great chicken/potatoe salad there the last couple times.  republic often serves up special brews.  so we tend to check it out when a new one is offered.

i've noticed several places have an abundance of tables available when i've gone out to eat.  i haven't figured out why that is yet.  although i think the busiest times are usually weekend evenings.  that's the time when most places are packed with no free tables.  but during the week, it hasn't been too difficult to walk in to a new place and get a table immediately. 

another popular hang out is the presto cafe.  it's a coffee house with an excellent selection of pastries and deserts.  i've been there a couple times and plan to go back soon.  seating can get cramped like any other coffee shop but it's worth it for a good cup of coffee.

i'm finishing up last minute stuff as i get ready for a trip back to the states.  i'll miss the warm weather and friends, which both seem to be increasing in my stay here.  but it'll will be great to see family again.   

life is good

over the weekend, i received some more photos.  my friends, "p" & "m", gave me pics from our first visit together.  as you can see from the photo, i did the obligatory tourist shot of sitting on some artillery.  we've been spending a lot of time together since then.  last friday, we got together for a late dinner and then a trip to zabriskie point for dancing and a few drinks. i'd been there before and was looking forward to the company and a night out.  last time i had gone, i was ill prepared for the night in attire and being up too early in the morning.  but this time i was ready to stay out as late as the best of them. 

the dance club was just as i remembered it, classic rock and sofas everywhere. the music group that night was another cover band, with russian, latino, and american songs.  i spent part of the night chatting with my russian friends and dancing with m.  midway through the night i felt a tap on the arm and someone asking what state i was from.  but instead of the normal russian accent this was spoken with none.  it was from a girl at one of our neighboring sofas.  we spoke more and i learned she was not an american but born in vladivostok.  she'd spent a year in the states and had been speaking english for years prior to that.  i complimented her (repeatedly) on how well she spoke english.  the rest of the night was spent dancing with my new aquaintance and trying to balance the conversation between my friends and "k".  the night flew by and we all grabbed the same taxi to get home.  i made sure i took down "k"s number so we could meet again.  after the taxi dropped me off, i glanced at my phone to check the time, it was 4:49 in the morning. i barely remember crawling under my covers.

animals never need a passport

it difficult to find the right mix of what to do with free time overseas.  whenever i devote too much time to one pursuit, the others start to make me feel guilty.  if i spent time with friends over the weekend, then i  think about work.  if i work, then i'm thinking about studying.  if i study, i crave time with friends.  and then there are the hobbies that patiently wait for me until i tired of all of the above.  i can see it in other people that i work with also.  they have their desires, goals and needs.  when someone breaks off and does something new, you admire them for their adventuresome spirit, but also envy them for doing it and not getting to join in.  it seems like everyday there's an invitation to some function, activity or get together.  i tend to join when i can, but there are times when i'm just to exhausted to participate.  this may fall on deaf ears for someone that envys the life abroad.  but it's not all ballroom dancing and dinner parties as one might suspect for the diplomatic corps.  even as i write this, i received an invite by a russian friend for chinese food and a nightclub afterwards. but this is why i joined the foreign service.  i wanted to experience life in other countries and learn more about people that live in them.  the more i learn the more questions i tend to have.  what similarities we have and don't have.  it's not just my age group either, i've learned alot about those that are older and those that are younger.  more often than not, i've learned people are the same where ever i go.  they all want security in their jobs, someone to love, and the pursuit of happiness.  all of them complain about their politicians, love their families, wish they were making more money, and want to have fun. 

its really a gamble on finding a post that you will enjoy.  i've been fortunate enough to find pleasure in all my tours. i've made friends, experienced the culture and have hopefully represented myself well enough to change some of the sterotypes americans have overseas.  i've talked to friends that have ended up in a post where they thought it would be their last one.  mainly due to the fact they couldn't stand some of their co-workers.  the best thing i've learned in the short span of three tours is that working with people that gets along with is not worth spending any time dwelling on.  address the problem, move on and try not to let it bother you.  you feel better taking the high road in the long run and a few years later you can barely remember their name. 

it seems like every summer that approaches brings with it a changing of the guard.  you quickly make friends upon your arrival and then start counting the days until those friends have to move on to their next assignment or back to the states.  this post is no different.  and i'm going to miss everyone that's leaving like i usually do.  but one thing is strikingly different.  this time, i'm going to slowly become the one that's been here the longest while everyone else will be fresh off the plane.  there's a certain solice in that, with being comfortably settled.  but there also the constant reminder of friends that have left you.