Random notes on Russia

As I wind up my last few days in the Russian Far East, I’ve compiled a short list of odd things I’ve noticed:

Elevator confusion

In my elevator at the hotel in Vladivostok, I couldn’t find my floor number (9). It took me a minute, and then I realized why. The numbers went up and down, rather than across.

For example, I was expecting this:

9 10
7 8
5 6
3 4
1 2

But instead, they went like this:

6 12
5 11
4 10
3 9
2 8
1 7

Obviously not a big deal, but enough to temporarily confuse me, which isn’t hard to do.

You talking to me?

Pretty much every conversation between two men speaking Russian to each other sounds like an argument to the death. Sometimes it is. Other times it’s just someone ordering soup at a restaurant.

Also, though I surely don’t speak Russian, I definitely have noticed that the Russian Far East accent is far more pleasing than the Moscow accent, which has a sneering sound to my ear.

And we’re on!

For some reason I truly don’t understand, I’ve been interviewed on TV at least four times and radio once. It’s very humbling, but I’m baffled by the attention. It’s also slightly embarrassing when I’m asked questions I have no idea about, like my impressions of Russian media or who I think was at fault for a recent Russian-Georgian conflict. I’m honest and say that I don’t know, but I feel kind of sheepish.

I’ll have the borscht to go

Granted, my introduction to Russian cuisine was airline food, so that’s not a fair assessment, and when I’ve eaten at a Russian home, the fare has been very good. But, I would not put Russia on any culinary must-do lists. Maybe I’m still smarting from the breakfast buffet at my Vladivostok hotel, which featured such morning delights as eel, kim chi and eggplant soup.

Of course, I’ve also had some real delights, including banana crepes with chocolate, beef stroganoff, black rice with seafood and some of the best sweet and sour pork I’ve ever had.

Green means go; Yellow means go faster; Red means whatever you want it to mean

In Vladivostok, at least, traffic lights seem to be a luxury provided to few intersections. And even those that have them seem to use them more for decoration than for practical use, at least judging by the reaction of drivers. It’s as if they are mere guides or suggestions, rather than actual laws. In Khabarovsk, it seems they are both more prevalent and binding.

Rules are for breaking

All in all, I’m struck by what seems to be a culture of rules, few of which are followed. Could this be a holdover from Soviet times? I don’t know.

More observations — and photos — to come.