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.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Thirty

Well, well. We've come to it at last - I'm no longer a dude in my twenties. I seem to recall an episode of *Friends* in which Joey contemplates his fast-approaching 30th birthday and cries out to a higher power, "No, no, God - I thought we had a deal! Take the others! Not me!" Thankfully, I don't feel quite that level of anxiety. If you're thinking to yourself, "That show sucks," I'm not disagreeing with you, but I remembered that bit of it today.

I've been in Moscow since 8 o'clock this morning, and it's making a terrible first impression on me. Truly terrible. The guy who picked me up at the train station, holding a little sign that said "Hunter" on it, didn't say one word to me as he drove me to the hotel. He never said one little word. Not even "zdrastvuitye" - hello. Then, my heart was in my throat at check-in because the reception person had trouble finding my reservation. Thankfully, she eventually found it, stuck in a folder filled with crumpled, coffee-stained faxes. Then, after settling into my room, I asked the floor staff if it was possible to get a little laundry done, and judging from their reaction, you'd think I had asked them to design and build a space station for me. I think they were irritated because the day's laundry had already been done, but with the assistance of my phrasebook (it has paid for itself 100 times over), we agreed that I would pay 300 roubles and my laundry would be ready tomorrow evening (zaftra vecheram).

Then the really bad thing happened. After taking the subway into central Moscow and wandering around Red Square and the surrounding neighbourhood for a while, I was in one of the underground crosswalks and became the target of two thieves. They tried to pull the "wad of bills" scam on me, but I had read about it previously in the Bryn Thomas guidebook and instantly knew what was going on.

Let me describe the events for you:

I'm walking through the tunnel. It's very crowded.

Ahead of me, a guy (let's call him Short Guy) appears to accidentally drop a wad of US bills.

Another guy (let's call him Tall Guy), walking beside me, scoops up the wad of bills, turns to me with his eyebrows raised and says in English, "Hmm... How about we split this fifty-fifty?"

Me: Nyet.

Tall Guy: Oh, come on. Free money.

Me [trying to walk away from him]: Nyet, spasiba.

Tall Guy [following me]: No, seriously, we'll split it.

Short Guy [comes back with fake look of alarm on his face, looks at me]: Excuse me, sir, but I think I dropped my money... Did you see any money? I'll give you a reward.

Me [strenuously trying to get away through the crowd]: Nyet. Nyet. Nyet.

Short Guy: But sir, please, help me, help me find my money. Where's my money

Me: Da svidanya. Da svidanya.

Short Guy and Tall Guy [talking at the same time now, hemming me in]: C'mon, c'mon, friend...

Me [getting angry]: Atyebis! [fuck off]

Me [pointing at each guy in turn]: Vor [thief]. Vor [thief]. Da svidanya.

I walk away. I turn back to point at them one more time. They are standing together, talking. They obviously know each other, are working together. They both wave at me and smile. I go up the stairs and onto street level, leaving them behind.

The scam, apparently, involves some pretext whereby the mark (here, me) is required to get out his own money, at which point one of the guys would either grab it outright and run or stealthily take it. I'm not sure how they planned to get me to show my own money - Bryn Thomas wasn't entirely clear about that.

So anyway, I came away unscathed, having performed a little better than I did in Las Vegas that time with the whole "Dance Away Illiteracy" situation. Not quite as gullible now.

Over the next few days, I'd like to do the following: go inside the Kremlin; go to the big outdoor market; stock up on supplies for my Trans-Siberian train ride; go to the expat bar run by Canadians; jhave a drink at one of the fancy historic hotels; and view the Metro stations that are especially beautiful.

My hotel is not in central Moscow. It's eight stops out on the grey line of the Metro, in an area that reminds me of Jane and Finch. Lots of high rises; lots of pavement; decrepit, depressing businesses lining the streets; lots of traffic noise. To be fair, the area has quite a lot of trees, and is not entirely unpleasant. My hotel is itself a super-bland high rise, about 20 years old - a real contrast to the place in St. Petersburg, which was old and rickety and full of character. My room is small and clean, on the sixth floor. The hotel is very close to a Metro station, and it was easy to buy a subway card with 20 rides on it, for 195 roubles (about $8 Canadian), and zoom into the heart of the city, where I promptly got lost for half an hour before recognizing the Kremlin and orienting myself to it.

I'm missing all my friends and family and Jess today very, very much. I'm going to try and make some phone calls while I'm here at "Eastern Europe's biggest internet cafe," on the basement level of a shopping mall next to Red Square. I've noticed a bunch of things about Moscow so far, but they'll go either in my journal or in a future post, because I'm feeling tired all of a sudden and think I'll go back to the hotel.

6 Comments:

Blogger Tim & Ann said...

Happy b-day Aaron...have a couple of peeva to celebrate! Great to read about your adventures (and mis-adventures ie the money scam). Take it all in, the time will go by quick.

ps make sure you pick a good looking lamb or goat while in Mongolia! :)

2:36 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Aaron,

Happy 30th Birthday! I wish I was with you! I miss you so much and I hope you are having a great day, minus the money scams!! Got your phone call, sorry I missed it. Now that the session is over I will have phone on me if you would like to give me a call.

Love you lots,

Jess :)

4:06 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Aaron! Nice work dispatching the miscreants. In your honour, I ate a BC Ferries Coffee Crisp today.

When you do buy a goat, I suggest you name it Loquacious.

Matt

4:59 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oooh, you're not staying in the Traveller's Guest House, are you? When I was there many years ago, they had two staff members. One very very helpful, they other very very not helpful. Maybe she's still there...

Anyway, Happy Birthday, and congratulations on seeing off the scammers! Sounds like you handled it pretty much perfectly. Hope everything goes better from here-on in.

7:24 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're a couple of days late with our birthday greeting, but happy belated! We weren't sure of where to read your blog, but when we actually tried a simple google search, there you were. Having a great time reading about your travels. Your hotel and bear experiences are very John Irving-esque!
Carrie and Matt

11:23 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUDDY!

11:42 AM

 

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