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Sunday, August 27, 2006

City of Rain


Outside the porthole is Vladivostok, birthplace of Yul Brynnar. It is surrounded by a curtain of grey. 'Looks like rain,' says Chris simply, 'or maybe dew.'
'Chris. You are not blaming the Jews for rain are you?' I ask angrily.
'No no no. Not that sort of...' he stammers.
'He's toying with you. Ignore him.' advises Nik. Chris looks at me. 'Mm.' he says. His mouth retracts into his beard. He does this when he doesn't want to talk to me anymore.

We step outside, past the dodgy secondhand "car dealers" with Toyota car doors under their arms and a handful of Japanese tourists (will they be the first people on Mars? Time will tell) and into the rainy embrace of Siberia. After going down the rickety stairs (every third one loose), Nik, Chris, Konrad the 26-year old German Chaos theorist and I make our way to Immigration.

(45 minutes of waiting later)

The Custom guys have a look at my passport. 'Ah. Афстралиа (Australia)!' they say. 'Da.' I reply.
'Australia good. America not good.' they nod me through the gates.

We exchange email details with Konrad and bid him goodbye. A van is waiting for us- part of the arrangement with the travel company that organised our visas and accomodation. We are whisked away to the apartment where we will stay for the next two and a half days.

Rain has taken the city hostage. Although it goes way beyond that. It has shot several of the hostages and thrown the bodies from atop a high tower. It is demanding a helicopter with a full tank of fuel NOW before it starts cutting ears off the remaining hostages who are cowering on the floor in their own feces.

The streets are rivers. The mall is a lake. The sky is a broken sprinkler system without an off button. Chris, Nik and I are drenched minutes in to our surveying of the city of Vladivostok. There is rain and rain and rain and rain. A few Russians pass by. 'Does everyone else seem less wet than we are?' I ask. It looks like we have taken a dip inside a hotel pool with our clothes on.

We bump into Konrad again. 'Hello my friends,' he says, 'what a day yes?'
'It's an awful (untranslatable) day here in f(thunder rolls across the skies)ing Vladivostok! Why the (censored) are we even here in this (car passes by, splashing us more)-forsaken, (bleep)-licking place?'
'I'm sorry? What was that?'
'He's just annoyed because we haven't had any food yet.' explains Nik, 'Actually we are getting a little peckish ourselves.'
'Try this food place down this oolitza(street). I had some nice chicken just then. Kentuky-style!'

We agree to follow Konrad's advice. Before we part ways again we invite him to a bar where we were supposed to go later that evening. Bar Americano. Nik's Russian friend, Alex, happens to have a brother who runs this place a few blocks from where we were getting drenched.

After being unable to find the "chicken place" recommended by Konrad and getting further soaked in the process we barge through a random door. It is a Russian restaurant. With a Russian menu. Water-logged phrasebooks out on the counter, we try to decypher the menu before us. Soup and french fries. That's all that makes sense to us. That may be all we will eat for the entire trip. Unless....

A man orders a big plate of roast chicken. 'What's that?' I ask in Russian (Probably more like 'Wat?' followed by vigorous pointing). The counter lady tells me. 'For me. One.' I say. The others agree that chicken will be fine. I try to pay the woman. She stares at the note and says something in Russian. I blink. She waves the note and says something in Russian again. Rain drips from my nose. 'Huh?' I ask, in English.

Minutes later her son, about 12-years of age, is brought to the counter. The Counter lady shoots off a barrage of Russian words at the kid and hands him a note. The kid looks at her, looks at the note, looks outside and his face unfolds into the univeral expression of: You want me to go outside in THAT? To exchange this 1,000 rouble note that this idiot foreigner has handed over and expects change for? He crosses himself and bolts outside, into the rain.

'We are not going to be popular here.' I muse as a steaming plate of chicken is handed to me by an annoyed Russian counter lady.


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