Return to the Motherland

Posted: April 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

In the past month, I have done a fair amount of traveling. I flew back home again on Aeroflot, and it was a nice flight again. On the new Airbus planes, there are cameras that show the front view of the plane during takeoff and landing. It was fun on April 3rdto see the snow blowing around the runway during taxi and takeoff. Actually, Aeroflot was miraculous. We started boarding on time and left the gate two minutes ahead of schedule. We also landed at JFK about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

My attempts to take photos of the snow at the airport didn't really work out. The best I have is the snow in contrast to the black of this bus.

I had one of the best seats on the plane, right behind the bulkhead and the front of economy class. Thus, I had basically unlimited leg room. The seat next to me was also empty, so I had plenty of space to lean into when I wanted to sleep. The guy two seats over from me was a funny young Russian guy who had his sunglasses on the entire flight.

The bad side to sitting behind business class was that I got to witness the better food and drinks that those passengers were offered. At one point, I saw a stewardess eating ice cream. I want ice cream. The food in economy was the usual airplane crap. The second meal was a Russian attempt at Chinese food. I could only stomach one bite. The fun part was that there was a fortune cookie with the meal. Sadly, it did not contain lucky numbers or those “learn Chinese” lessons.

The purser on the flight was pretty funny. He made some interesting announcements in Russian and his English was quite hilarious. Upon landing, he welcomed us in Russian to “Johnny Geraldy Kennedy Aiprort.” Close, sir, close. Then, in English, he wished us all an “adorable day” in New York. As usual, upon landing, people were eager to get out of the seats at claim their luggage. The purser kept ordering people in economy class to sit down. At one point he singled out a woman and said “lady in the yellow shirt, sit down immediately!”

Yeah, about that... I mean, it's like writing "PLEASE STEAL" on the blankets.

It also wouldn’t be a flight from Russia without a lot of booze. The passenger at the window on the far side of me enjoyed his duty free purchases on the flight. Unlike on Delta, Aeroflot does not constantly tell the passengers not to drink their purchases. At the start of the flight, there is a pre-recorded announcement against the process, but no one actually stops the passengers from doing so. The man enjoyed about half of his bottle booze, which looked like cognac or whiskey. At the end of the flight, he offered a steward a bottle. The steward gladly accepted the bottle. After we landed and I was waiting for my luggage, the man was behind me. He reeked of alcohol and count not stand-up straight. He took out his phone to call someone and barely got it up to his ear. I just thought “please don’t puke on me” as I waited for my luggage.

Also, once again, flying Aeroflot was advantageous because I was one of the few American citizens on the flight. Because I was at the front of economy, I was one of the first people off of the plane. Then, I walked very quickly to passport control, where I was the first person in line. The only thing that slowed my return was waiting for my bag, but thankfully it was in the first group of bags to come off of the plane.

Finally, I realized that the migration office in my city runs a scam involving multi-entry visas. The migration office claims that with a multi-entry visa, I can only leave Russia, return, and leave Russia again. If I want to take more trips, according to the office, I need to get a new visa, which involves 20 days, paperwork, and 1,000 rubles (roughly $35). This time, I found out that I needed to fly home late on a Saturday night. The following day, I checked with my fellow Fulbrighters about the visa and realized that it is good for as many trips as I want to take in and out of Russia within the dates that it is valid. So I didn’t need to have a new visa made the last time I went home and I didn’t need the government official’s help to get it done in 3 hours. Such is the fun of dealing with bureaucracy in Russia.

Yesterday, I made it back to Ulyanovsk. I both did and did not want to return to Russia. For obvious reasons, I didn’t really want to leave my family again. On the other hand, I there are a lot of cool people in Ulyanovsk that I missed. There are also a lot of things that I want to do here.

Sadly, these slippers take up too much space to take with me. I also can't sit on the couch all morning watching Netflix in Russia. 1. I don't have a couch. 2. Netflix doesn't work in Russia.

I made sure to bring back more necessary things with me. One of the things I needed to bring was a waffle ball bat, as people here want to learn how to play baseball. My only problem was that the bat didn’t fit in my bag. Clearly, I could not take it onboard with me; although, I have a hard time imagining someone trying to take over a plane with a plastic bat. I thought of taking a different bag that was much larger and fit the bat, as well as my regular bag, inside of it. The bag was old and had a hole in it. The idea was to get rid of the old bag upon arriving in Russia. There was only one snag: it’s hard to throw out a bag at an airport or train station without looking like you’re going to blow it up.

The essentials for two more months in Russia.

I was given two art tubes the day before I left, so I managed to make my own fancy waffle ball bat carrier at home. I was allowed to free bags on Aeroflot, so this wasn’t a problem. Also, I have seen a Barbie Dream House as well as a microwave as checked “luggage” at Sheremetyevo before, so I figured I would be okay with my carrier. I was worried that something might happen to the tube and that I wouldn’t have the bat after my effort. Thankfully, the tube came out pretty quickly at baggage claim. Then, I worried for a while that my regular bag hadn’t made it. I had put the two pieces into the bag drop off together, so I guess I had some reason to worry. Thankfully, it also arrived intact.

You should be glad I don't design luggage for a living. I felt very Russian with my handle made of twine and tape.

I left America on the 18th and arrived in Moscow after a nine hour flight from hell. As it is spring, it’s apparently “take your baby to Russia” time. The plane was full of children. I had the misfortune of having one next to me on the plane. During the first hour, the child screamed like crazy. Then, the child kept moving around his seat, which caused his mother to readjust the dog shaped pillow on which he was sitting. Every time that she adjusted the pillow, she hit me with it. Eventually, the child calmed down. At one point, I turned towards the aisle and attempted to sleep. I was maybe asleep for half an hour. Luckily, when I woke up, I looked at my feet. When I did this, I noticed that the mother had made a bed of sorts for the child on the floor, the only problem being that the child’s head was where my feet should have been.

Towards the end of the flight, a steward provided a huge source of amusement for me. He had a conversation with the woman next to me. She asked what she had to do to make her connecting flight. When he told her that she had to go through customs, she seemed shocked. The steward responded with, “You aren’t shocked that you have to go through customs in America but you are when are go to Russia? They have to see how many cigarettes and sausages you are brining. Russia is a modern country, you know. In fact, it’s nicer and more beautiful than most countries.” The lady across the aisle from me and I started to laugh a little at this exchange. The weird thing was that the woman asking the questions was Russian, so you would think that she might have caught other flights within her home country.

On the train, I had interesting compartment mates. There was a woman of about 35, and two men in their mid to late 40s. One man was the boss of the second man. I had a wonderful conversation with the three of them. The boss proceeded to drink half a liter, plus a little more, vodka by himself and went to sleep early. I continued my conversation with the other guy and woman for a while longer. At one point, we started to talk about literature and the novel “The Master and Margarita.” This was a fun coincidence as I have been reading parts of the novel in my Russian class. Eventually we went to sleep, but the night was terrible. The drunk boss proceeded to throw up all over his bed, which was above mine. The scary thing was that the other two weren’t really bothered by the incident. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much on the train that night.

Today, I met up with a few friends. We took a ride a little north of the city to pick up one friend’s son. The road to where her son was staying went through a tank training ground. There were signs that said “Warning Tanks” and “Stop here and fire.” Sadly, I didn’t get any photos of them. What was more sad was that I was told that I could not go for a ride in one of them. I guess I won’t get to go for a tank ride in Russia. Too bad. Then, we headed back to her house and had a nice evening hanging out in her backyard talking and eating shashlik, or barbequed skewered meat.

Oh, and there’s no hot water in the dormitory. Again. For another week. Welcome back to Russia!

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