Friday, February 26, 2010

Olympic Butt Kicking

Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to hold back when other people rip into your country and your culture, proclaiming their nationalist superiority at the expense of your own. Russians are particularly fond of telling themselves how superior to all others their own country is (not unlike many Americans and Brits).

My flatmate, Mr. Irish, is also a culprit of a cultural superiority complex, particularly when it comes to North America.

So I withstand the bashing of my nation and, in essence, my family, friends and childhood and wait for something to happen so that I can laugh at everyone. With Vancouver hosting a particularly fine Olympics, my opportunity came when Canada beat Russia 7-3 in men's hockey.

The game aired at 03:00 (that's "a.m.") here in Moscow and I was up watching it online in spite of the crappy quality of the pirated streams I was forced to visit because of the monopoly NBC and CTV have on global Olympic coverage. Wearing my favourite "Ottawa, Canada" t-shirt and a pair of red mittens with maple leaves that Katerina knitted for me, I cheered Canada on to a complete ass-whomping of the Russian team.

Yesterday in class I gloated to my students, pointing and laughing hysterically at each of them in turn. When Russia's national football team didn't make the World Cup qualifiers in the fall, my Russian students said, when pressed, "I don't want to talk about it." They didn't want to talk about hockey, either, but this time they didn't have a choice. Dream team? Please.

Of course, my American colleagues continue to point out that Team Canada lost to the USA with a score of 5-3 on Monday, but I just tell them that "I don't want to talk about it."

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro has to be the most breathtaking example of human subterranean endeavour on the planet. To put it in layman's terms, it friggin' rocks!

300 km of tube and track connect 12 seperate lines to over 180 stations, making it the third most expansive metro in the world after Seoul and Tokyo. Those two metro systems, although slightly larger, pale in comparison when it comes to the aesthetic beauty of Moscow's system.

The Moscow Metro map, with the incredibly useful 'circle line' connecting all lines.
In 1931 Joseph Stalin commissioned work on the Metro to begin. He envisioned a metro system so grand; so luxurious, that it would showcase the achievements of the world's first Communist state.
In 1932 the first shaft was sunk deep below Moscow, and three years later, in 1935, the first trains were running from Park Kultury to Smolenskaya stations. Over the decades more lines have been added, and every leader of Russia since Lenin has a station named after them.
The Moscow Metro is the world's deepest, with some stations located well below 100 feet underground. This came in handy during the Second World War, providing shelter to thousands of Muscovites during German bombing raids on the city.
In 2004 Chechen terrorists detonated several explosive devices near Pavaletskaya station, killing 40 and injuring over 100. Since then there has been a heavy militsia presence in the stations (an unnerving fact for the central-asian riders, who are constantly harrassed by the police), and photography has been banned except with permission.
This hasn't stopped me from snapping photos whenever opportunity presents itself, and below I give you a little photo-expose of the best subway system in the world: the Moscow Metro!

The old rattling trains, made in Mytischi, add to the vibe.

The strange things that one sees on the Moscow Metro also adds to the appeal, like this guy wearing bear-fur everything, and, if you look closely, a bear claw necklace.

Park Pabodi (Victory Park) metro station.

One of my personal favourite stations is Komsomolskaya. Just look at the place!

Me, on the metro

Statues dedicated to soldiers, workers and heroic partisans, like this one here, are everywhere.

The Novoslobodskaya Metro stop, from the outside.

Nearly 1 million people ride the metro everyday, and rush hour (8-10 and 16:00-18:00) can be a hellish crush of people, all jostling to get in the doors and on the escalators while metro workers yell at them to "Walk left, stand right!"

I love the anachronistic Soviet decor found at nearly every station!

Some escalator rides down can take a five minutes or more!

The "blue line" is one of the newest lines, and uses shiny modern trains from Korea with digital signage...not quite as fun as the older carriages on the other lines, but much smoother.

The dog statues at this station are thought to bring luck if you rub their nose. Notice the nice polish on this dog's snout?

Another feature of the Moscow Metro: the Moscow Women!

There it is: the Moscow Metro in all it's beautiful glory!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jon Lajoie

For this particular post I'm going to take a break from writing about Russia and offer you some mindless entertainment instead.

Jon Lajoie is a Canadian from Montreal who got his break by creating and posting hilarious videos on YouTube. They are all filmed in Montreal and this guy really cracks me up. Enjoy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Feis Kontrol

Last weekend my ego took a hit when I was turned away from a club by the doormen. I was indiscriminately refused entry because of my hat, or perhaps because of the other eight guys I was with, or perhaps because of Wonderpant's hat. Maybe it was just bad timing. One way or another, I was feis kontrolled.

Moscow's infamous feis kontrol (exactly what it sounds like: face control) bars anyone they deem not good-looking enough from entering any given club. Even Mytischi has feis kontrol at it's three clubs.

Feis kontrol is completely arbitrary and it's impossible to plan on going to just one club in Moscow because half your group may get in and the other half turned away for no apparent reason. To make matters worse, there is no real "downtown" in Moscow and the night life is spread throughout the city. Being the largest city in Europe and the 7th largest city in the world, an alternate venue could be miles away and that means an evening runs the risk of being ruined by some over-muscled feis kontrol guy named "Pasha".

Although feis kontrol is completely arbitrary and is completely up to the mood of the guy at the door, there are some precautions a potential clubber can take to increase the odds of getting in.
  1. Dress nice. Sloppy t-shirt and ripped jeans with dirty sneakers won't get you into a club in the U.S. In hyper-fashion-sensitive Moscow, don't even leave home dressed like that let alone attempt to get into a club.
  2. If you're a guy, make sure you have some chicks with you. It doesn't matter if they're falling down drunk and throwing up in a snowbank, your odds are greatly increased by the ability of the club to cram as many members of the female gender in as possible. If you're a group of guys with no girls, then it's a bottle of vodka and a kitchen table followed by some porn for you.
  3. If you're a girl, enjoy the evening.
  4. Don't be born ugly. Sure, in the western world ugly people have rights, but in Moscow ugly people aren't allowed outside after dark. Unfortunately, if you are ugly, there's not much you can do about it. If you're an ugly girl then some great hair and a bit of cleavage may increase your odds. If you're an ugly guy, see point #2.
  5. Be white. Much like point #4, Moscow isn't an easy place to live for people who are of a different ethnic background. Those with north-east Asian heritage, such as Japanese, Korean and Chinese, won't have too much difficulty (at least the girls won't), but those of a middle-eastern or central Asian persuasion probably won't be seeing too much of Moscow's famed nightlife.
  6. Finally, look and act like you have money. Even if you had to beg your administrator for a 500 rouble advance on Friday, dress and act at the door as if though your father owns an oil field or an investment bank. Again, this won't guarantee you anything, but it will increase your odds. A few English or German words may help, as many Russians think money grows on trees in those countries.

Until last weekend I had never been turned away by feis kontrol. In fact, Quagmire and I have been ushered into a club in the past. On Saturday, however, we didn't follow any of the above guidelines.

Wonderpants and I started drinking on the elektrishka into Moscow around 2 pm, then we spent the entire afternoon at a pub drinking pints and watching soccer on a big screen TV (Liverpool vs Evereton). We were dressed in jeans and t-shirts. Then Ms. Australia invited us over to Gem's flat, where more people were drinking. Then everyone decided to go out on the town. It took 3 cars to get to the Kitay Gorod section of Moscow, near the Kremlin, and when Wonderpants and I arrived we met 8 other guys from Gem's party at the door. We said "Hey, what's going on?" to them at which point feis kontrol, realizing that were now a group of 10 guys wearing jeans waiting to get in, slammed the door in our face.

There were two women with Wonderpants and I; SDD (Schangledoodledandy) and Ms. Seattle, but they were tucked away behind the guys and I don't know if feis kontrol saw them. Even if they had, the ratio of men to women was too high. When the car with the rest of the girls showed up feis kontrol wouldn't let the guys in (no problem for the women), so Wonderpants and I took a 1000 rouble taxi back to Mytischi and called it a night.

Because nightlife can happen at any time without warning in Moscow, it may be best to always be prepared to get past feis kontrol.

The back of the Kremlin

In the car on the way to the club in the Kitay Gorod with the Kremlin in front of us.

Outside the club where Wonderpants and I were feis-kontrolled

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Drunken Goon Upstairs

There is a proud tradition of constructing strong and sturdy buildings in Russia. From the thick brick and mortar stability of the Kremlin to the massive concrete and steel "Seven Sisters" that ring Moscow to the vastness of the elegant and impressive Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia has demonstrated throughout history that she can build.

So why, then, am I in the only building in all of Russia that might possibly have been imported from, say, China?

The building I live in is nearly 20 stories tall, and each floor has four apartments tucked into the east side of the building (the west side is a garbage chute and stairs). The elevator ride to my floor is a bit scary, but the ride down to the first floor is a hell-raising venture! The elevator doesn't sit on it's tracks well and wobbles violently from side to side if the passengers aren't perfectly balanced. Sometimes it stops at random floors; other times it just loses power and stops!

If Mr. Irish and I are using any combination of appliances that draw more than 5 amps the breakers switch off and we lose power in our apartment. Just to clarify how much 5 amps is, if we are cooking something on the stove and turn on the electric kettle at the same time, we lose power. In these cases one of us grabs the flashlight my mother gave me before I left for Russia, wrestles with the jailers keys to get out of the door, and then enters the common hallway where the fuse box is. We then take our life in our own hands as we poke our finger through a mass of disorganized wires to flip a little plastic switch with the fingertip. Amidst a burst of sparks the power comes back on.

These things, however, are expected in Russia and I can live with them. What I can't live with is the drunken goon who occupies the flat above us.

The walls to our flat are pure concrete and are so strong that I can't nail anything into them. The floors seem to be made out of plastic wrap. Right above us lives a man and a woman. There might possibly be a child (in addition to the man) but I'm not sure. I do know that the guy upstairs has no job because he is home all day and all night. Mr. Irish and I also suspect that he's not Russian because we can hear him talking (all the time) and it's not a language we recognize. Katerina confirmed this, as well. In fact, I don't think he speaks any language known to humans on earth.

He has a deep, mumbling, slurring voice that sounds as if though he were always drunk. Better yet, he sounds as if though we live below Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh, except that Tigger is always drunk AND has down's syndrome.

Tigger has a routine that he follows every day. Tigger is always yelling at his wife. He yells and and shouts and generally treats her like crap. He spends his mornings singing drunken songs and banging his fist in rythm on a table. He then starts a construction project, drilling and hammering above my bedroom while blaring bad Russian pop music, usually beginning around 10 am but sometimes as early as 6. This goes on until the early afternoon when he begins to vomit disgustingly loud with floor-shaking convulsions. Mr. Irish gets the bulk of the vomit noises from his bedroom. Sometime in the evening he passes out for an hour or two before waking up and screaming at his wife a bit more. At night he has a friend over and they blare music and drink and yell above my room (on Sunday night that lasted until 4 am).

This unemployed drunken wife-abusing idiot is quite possibly the worst neighbour I have ever had to endure, and I am powerless to do anything about it. After our Halloween party Mr. Irish and I were told that our neighbours could complain all they want about us but we had no rights to complain about them because we were foreigners and the school has a good deal on our flat.

The only thing I can hope for is that Tigger, in a drunken fit, accidentally drills a hole in his head and dies. Then I'll sleep peacefully.