One hundred and ten degrees of longitude separate St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tokyo, Japan. For eight weeks in 2005, I'll be crossing this large chunk of the world solo. I've set up this blog so that family and friends can keep track of my whereabouts, my activities, and my well-being. It might also be useful for someone planning a similar trip. Please bookmark this page so you can check up on me at your leisure.

Monday, May 30, 2005

What's going on

Hi, everybody. I apologize for my long absence. I thought that when I finished law school at the end of April, I would turn back to the blog with a vengeance. The truth, however, is that law school and blogging existed in a kind of symbiotic relationship. While in school, I turned to the blog as a healthy outlet for stress and occasionally as a procrastination device. In addition, I was reading at least one and sometimes more than one of the free daily newspapers available at the law building, providing me with lots of raw material to write about.

Incidentally, the same basic explanation applies to the Rosetta Stone software. Without school in the background, I have real trouble maintaining focus on it. At this rate, there's absolutely no way I'll have completed the program by the time I leave on my trip. I'll be forced to walk around Russia with a phrasebook open in my hands - just what I had hoped to avoid. After all that bragging about how virtuous it is to learn a language "for real." Pitiful.

I spent most of May lying around, reading, and doing fun things like attending my sister's wedding. Just recently, my bar review course has begun. I'm obliged to treat the course and its associated homework as a full-time job. The bar review course runs until mid-July, and the remainder of July will be devoted to very serious studying for the exams that take place in Albany on July 26 and 27.

The bottom line is that blog entries are going to be pretty thin on the ground between now and when I actually depart on August 14th. I might write a little bit about the visa application process between now and then, and will likely write about the preparing and packing right before I leave, but I can't in good conscience promise anything. I'm sure that the blogging spirit will return with great strength once I'm over there - I'll try to send something meaningful from every city I visit, from St. Petersburg to Tokyo.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Bar Towel

I have promised my friend Cass that I will submit stories of foreign beer-drinking experiences to his website for beer conoisseurs, The Bar Towel. I have also promised to wear a shirt with the Bar Towel logo while I am away and send back pictures of myself wearing said shirt. I hear that the beer in Russia is pretty good. I have no idea about Mongolian and Chinese beer, although I imagine there are local breweries. As for Japanese beer, my knowledge is limited to the one or two cans of Sapporo I've had in sushi restaurants on Bloor Street.

Postcard from the Soviet Union

In 1973, my grandmother visited the Soviet Union as a tourist. She sent a postcard to my father, her soon-to-be son-in-law, from the city that was then known as Leningrad. The image on the postcard is reproduced below.



Now, is it just me, or is this dreary office building a rather sad and pitiful subject for a postcard? Is this an example of the Soviet dreariness we hear so much about in the West? A cheerful riverside setting does little to relieve the nasty cinder block quality of the building. I know what you're probably thinking - the building is a marvellous accomplishment of the workers and evidence of the triumph of socialism.

The message on the reverse of the postcard contains little that would interest you, I'm afraid. It's all very general. I think my grandmother might have been concerned about being arrested by the KGB if she wrote anything too detailed or insightful about the city and its people, or maybe she was just too busy organizing things for her tour group. I may apply to my mother for more candid and colourful stories from my grandmother's trip.

You may, however, derive some pleasure from looking at the stamps and postmark.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Getting scary over there

I was directed to this website about Russian politics and culture by a banner on the Atlantic Monthly website. Is this brand new? I'll have to explore it thoroughly - maybe even add it to my list of links. On first glance, it looks like a collection of articles about Russia from a variety of prestigious American publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Lots of pieces in the "wow, it's getting scary over there" vein. I hope it gets updated regularly - that would make for very convenient one-stop shopping.

Stop-overs

All the flights are being finalized now, and it looks like I'll have a stop-over in Amsterdam on the way to Russia and one in Chicago on the way home from Japan. Unfortunately, neither is long enough to do anything but look around the airport. I've never visited either city. Sigh.

Sleeping in Japan

As yet, I have made no hotel arrangements for Japan. I do, however, know my rough itinerary for that part of the trip: arrive in Fukuoka (2 days), Hiroshima (2 days), Osaka (2 days), Kyoto (4 days, with a daytrip to Nara), and Tokyo (5 days, with daytrips to Nikko and Kamakura). I'd like to stay in more than one kind of place - not just regular budget hotels, but also a traditional ryokan and a capsule hotel. Maybe I'll treat myself to an upscale ryokan in Kyoto. I hope that one of my Japanese-speaking friends will help me make the bookings.

Alessandro Digaetano

Okay, this is my third time typing out this post; problems with Blogger and with my internet service provider are driving me crazy. Let's hope this works, because I don't have the heart to type it out again.

The June issue of the Atlantic Monthly has some interesting content dealing with China. There's an article by famous journalist, author, and foreign policy guru Robert D. Kaplan, predicting a twenty-first century Cold War between China and the United States. There's also a terrific photo of glowing Shanghai skyscrapers by the Italian photographer Alessandro Digaetano who is based in China. The photo is unavailable on the Atlantic website, and too large for me to scan, but you can see a tiny version of it here on the Polaris Images website. The Polaris Images site also has a gallery of Digaetano's work, and his own personal site has even more.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hybridization

In the fall, my friend Matt will be taking up a teaching position in the Geography Department at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Cultural geography is one of the subjects he will teach during the 2005/06 academic year, and he hopes to discuss with his students the idea of cultural hybridization - when members of one society adopt practices and preferences that are markers of another, much different society. I was pleased and honoured by Matt's suggestion that he might be able to use photos from my trip in the classroom, as evidence of this hybridization in the countries I'll be visiting. Maybe I'll see Mongolian teenagers sporting iPods and Fifty Cent t-shirts, or Botox clinics in Beijing. I'll be sure to keep an eye out.