Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas excursion, adventure and the like

A few weeks ago, after church Sam and I decided to go to Mega to grab some lunch and do a little shopping. Mega is a nice mall with a food court, a huge grocery store - Ashan, and IKEA. Getting there requires a trip on the Metro to the 5th stop, then taking a free bus from there to Mega. Sounds easy. But it's a much bigger adventure than one might think - especially this time of year - as we discovered. When we arrived at Prospekt Brosvechenya - the stop where the free bus picks up - there was already a MASSIVE crowd waiting for the bus. When i say massive, i mean several hundred people. Now, when it comes to queing in Russia, there are some rules. However...there are different rules for different sorts of queues. For example, let's say you arrive at a bank lobby and want to see a cashier. All cashiers are busy with one person standing there at their desk. There are a number of other people in the lobby, some sitting some standing randomly about the lobby, but you see no one in queue. One might assume that these other people have already been helped or are waiting for someone else who is currently being served and you should so stand behind the person being served. But, if you did this, you would be be comitting a big social faux-pas and you would most likely get reamed out. What you are supposed to do in this sitation is this: When you arrive in the lobby, you are supposed to ask, "Who is last?" The person who is last will identify themselves and then you can sit or stand wherever you want while you just keep an eye on who is being helped. When the person ahead of you gets helped you know you are next. Now, this is the rule for banks. But buying Metro coins is a different story. At the Metro cashier there are strict queues and you have to stand very close to the person in ahead of you so no one else steps in front of you. Now...Getting INTO the Metro or a bus is another story altogether. At this point, it is every man for himself. Which brings us back to the massive crowd at Prospekt Brosvechenya. The crowd had gathered by the sign for the free bus, stretching about the length of three busses and as it grew, the width spilled out into the street, blocking one lane of traffic. The logic here is, the closer you are to the door the more likely you will get in, so people basically put themselves in the path of the bus, trying to be first, even if it means having the bus nearly hit them when it pulls up. The traffic was particularly jammed and so it took the bus about 15 minutes before it pulled up, even though we could see it approaching (very slowly) for about half of that time. Once the bus crossed the intersection and aimed itself at the pack of people, the wave began. (This is where people begin anticipating the bus arrival, and begin pushing from the back and it feels pretty much like it feels when you are in the ocean caught in the current.) The first bus arrived and stopped very far to our right, so we knew we would never make it in that one. Half of the crowd swarmed that way the other half repositioned themselves as we did, waiting for the next one we could see coming up. Sam and I jockeyed to position ourselves in the crowd. Being in the front of the pack is never ideal, as you have to worry about being hit by the bus, especially considering the crowd pushes so much and you could get pinned up against the side of the bus. Being in the middle can be good because you'll probably get in, but you end up having no control and just getting pushed around by whatever the back is doing. being in the back is the safest because you have control, but you have to really push people and you may not even get in. We usually end up in the middle. As the bus stopped, the crowd surged toward the three door-openings in the side of the bus. This is where having played sports comes in handy. Ever hear of "boxing out" in basketball? this is pretty much the technique one needs to adopt to get in. You start pushing forward, "boxing out" and as soon as you can stick a body part in the door, you throw you body forward or grab on and pull yourself in. sam and I just made it in the door. he was half on the step and half on the floor of the bus. You might think that at this point the bus was full, seeing as we were already pressed aginst people on all sides, but you might be surprised to know that 4 more people pushed themselves in after us. After about 10-15 minutes of riding like this we finally arrived at Mega, where the doors screetched open and everyone poured out. We had a lovely afternoon - treated ourselves to Subway for lunch, strolled through IKEA, and bought a plant!

Christmas excursion

Christmas excursion



Then it was time to do it all over again - the bus ride. If you can imagine it, it was even worse on the way back. Sam and I had to split up - i aimed to get in one door and he aimed for another. we both managed to get insde, but just barely. the only reason i made it inside, is because i got my leg in the door, my foot on the step, and grabbed the doorframe to pull myself in. Luckily for me, the door is a sliding one, not an unfolding one like some busses, therefore didn't crowd me out when it shut. so, i ended up wedged between a handle, the door and a 4 ft. Christmas tree. This picture does not do justice to the actual situation. Just on the other side of the handle is a raised area over some mechanical bus stuff i presume(where this little girl is sitting) so it looks spacious, but isn't. and the little girl is blocking the veiw of all the people jam-packed in. but I didn't have room to move and so couldn't get a much better veiw. the arrows depict the door to the left, the handle in front, and the tree to the right. so this is what the ride looked like for me:

Then some genious behind me decided that this would be a good time to rearrange her bags. (there is literally barely enough room to stand, i have people pressing on me from behind, a handlebar pressing into my front and the door, the tree, pressing on either side, and here she is half bent over rearranging things, pushing people tighter and tighter together! argh!) the ride back was even longer due to bad traffic. the one positive of being next to the door was that it was slightly cooler there. (Remember: everyone is layered with coats, hats and scarves with no room to take them off because of the sardine-tin effect) because of being smack against the cold glass, i have a little relief. the downside to being wedged against the door became apparent upon our arrival when the door had to slide open...into the space i was occupying. my foot received the brunt of the force before i could push myself back against the people behind me enough to get out of the way and shove my way outside. SIGH. Relief. Thus, our Christmas Excursion, Adventure and the Like.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Photo time...

Deepthi's Birthday

Date with Sam to St. Peter and Paul's Fortress here in St. Petersburg
(Click on the slideshow, then put your cursor over the pictures to read the captions)

Random Bits of Life

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Schmap for Schmanda

Ok. So...i got an email about a week ago from the Managing Editor of Schmap Guides. For those of you who aren't familiar with Schmap (as I wasn't) Schmap is the publisher of free digital travel guides for destinations throughout Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company’s travel guides are available for download at Here's the email:

Hi Amanda,

I am writing to let you know that one of your photos has
been short-listed for inclusion in the fourth edition of
our Schmap Helsinki Guide, to be published mid-December

It went on to tell me how I could see which photo was up for possible inclusion in the guide and how to agree or decline inclusion of it in the running. The photo was one I took at the Helsinki Vantaa Airport a few months ago, and it was discovered on my Flickr, since I have Geo-tagged all my photos. So I figured what the heck, and agreed that they could include it if it was chosen. Well, I just got another email and they chose it. Its one of the pictures included in the "public transportation" section of the Helsinki guide.

I was going to include the Schmap widgett along the side here, but i'm not having success with it at the moment. For some reason the window that is supposed to show the map and photos keeps coming up blank. If I get it figured out, I will post it later. But for now, I'll just have to be content posting the pic they chose. If you saw my Helsinki Photos you've already seen this. It's the one of the sculpture inside the airport. Here it is:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why I hate going to the grocery store

Don't get me wrong, its not everywhere that i hate grocery shopping. I seem to have acquired this dislike here in Russia. You might think its because everything is written in Russian, or that the cashier people inevitably ask some question or yell something I dont understand and I feel completely stupid, blankly standing there, or because we have to load our backpacks to the breaking point then carry these monstrously heavy things back on the Metro hoping that maybe, just maybe, I can actually get inside quick enough and find a seat before all the sitting space is gone, then trudge home through the sloppy, coldness for 20 minutes to finally arrive at our building and walk up two flights of stairs before collapsing in exhaustion and throwing the backpack down loathing the day when I'll have to put it back on again for the next trip. You may think this, but you'd be wrong. The reason I hate going to the grocery store here is that no matter what day it is, no matter what time it is, the place always seems to jam-packed with tons of people, crowding every aisle with carts, which because of the ultra-slick floors always seem to be impossible to control, and slide every which way except of course the way you want them to go. Just walking in to the place makes every muscle in my body tense up. Its enough to give even the most socially resiliant people social anxiety disorder. I used to enjoy crowds, big celebrations and large gatherings, but this has indeed waned over the years. Combine that with living for a year and a half in the wide open spaciousness and relaxed, slow-paced environment of Namibia and you can see why this type of situation puts me near overload. Pair me up with Sam, who loathes social situations and is a self-proclaimed introvert who would be perfectly content to stay in his room and not see anyone for weeks, and its like throwing 2 cats into a river. Sometimes we work together and cling to each other to make it out alive. Other times we have ended up trying to stay afloat by using the other as our personal life-ring. And the life-ring unfortunately didn't fare too well. But thank God for self-revelation. It doesn't make grocery-shopping any more enjoyable...but I think it does make our marriage more enjoyable. I still dislike grocery shopping here. But at least Sam and I don't end up disliking each other through the experience. Knowing our weaknesses may not make us less weak, but like the great philosopher G.I. Joe says, "Knowing is half the battle."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Thanksgiving and such

As a follow up to my previous post, Thank you to those who voted. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and Loving Vs. Virginia didn’t make it into the top 6. Sadness.

I haven’t posted in a while, I know. Not much has been going on I guess. It has snowed more. Yesterday in particular. We have several inches on the ground now. And since the temps don’t really get above freezing anymore, it pretty much just sticks around on the ground indefinitely. Sam is nearing the home stretch of classes for the semester. He’s getting antsy. Ready to have a reprieve. December 25th is not a holiday here, so Sam will be in classes that day. Most Russians don’t make much of Christmas, but rather celebrate New Years. For those who do celebrate Christmas, it is celebrated by the Orthodox calendar – January 7th. So, the first week in January will be a holiday week , and then exams begin. How quickly Sam clears his exams will determine how much of a break he has between semesters.

Sam and I did celebrate Thanksgiving. We invited a few good friends to come share dinner with us. I cooked, and had a great time baking things and being able to play host. I baked chicken in a homemade honey-mustard sauce (no turkey available and if there was, probably way too expensive) mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, baked pineapple, deviled eggs, and apple pie (couldn’t find the spices needed for pumpkin pie!) For dinner there were 5 of us – Sam and myself, Deepthi and Mokshaa from India, and Faisal (Sam’s roommate from his 1st and 2nd year) who is from Jordan. Everybody was kind of tentative at first. Mokshaa told me, “You have to go first to show us what to do. We don’t know how to eat Thanksgiving food.” Sam laughed and said, “We use forks.” Everyone laughed a lot at that. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with Indian food and eating, Indians typically use their hand to mash together their rice and curry or whatever sauce and eat by hand.) The “Thanksgiving food” was of a different variety than most of our guests we accustomed to. Faisal, when putting food on his plate, took the tiniest portions of food and went to sit down at the table. I looked at him and said, “You want to make sure you like it first, don’t you?” He laughed and admitted, “Yes!” Well, thankfully it went over well, and very quickly he was back at the serving table filling up the plate. Everyone filled up and in typical Thanksgiving fashion was very full by the end of the meal. Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I was asked to share the story of holiday and its history. It was a very enjoyable evening and I had a great time sharing my favorite holiday with my few friends here.

You can see pics from our Thanksgiving celebration to the right in the slideshow, or you can check them out by following the "My Photos" link to my Flickr site.

I hope you are staying warm! Or to those of you in the southern hempisphere...i hope YOU are staying cool!