The 19th of January was Baptism day in Russia. All around the country, people threw themselves into frozen rivers, to clean themselves of sin. I, sadly, remained chock-full with sin. I had taken a towel with me, flip-flops, a swimsuit and a shot of cognac, and the conditions were ideal: -12 Celsius, 20 degrees warmer than usual at this time of year. We watched as hundreds of people dived in, simultaneously doing the sign of the cross. Three dives, three crosses seemed to be the rule, and Orthodox Church music played out over loudspeaker. But as we stood in the queue from 1am to almost 3am, I got cold feet, well, cold everything really, and chickened out. I went home a dry, broken man. Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of my adventures with cold water.
Two weeks ago (how can it possibly be just two weeks?), I ordered 9 big pies of various unknown flavours for 34 people from Germany and Russia, and waited in OKNA. I had on me almost 400 pages of documents, which required several signatures from every Russian participant, train tickets for all, and several dozen boxes of Doshirak (instant noodles), Rolltons (instant mashed potato), kasha (instant), mandarines and bananas: all the food we would need for 24 hours on the train. I sat, and the bad news came flooding in. The German plane was late. They’d lost all their luggage. They found it! Apart from one rucksack, which could pick up in Ulan-Ude, thank you Aeroflot. Our drivers from the airport had turned up with two buses instead of one, it would be more expensive. My phone was bugging up, and no one could call me. At the agreed meeting time of the whole group in OKNA, there were three of us there. I despaired. Suddenly, everyone turned up, a little more than an hour before our train was set to leave. In a storm of heavy rucksacks and cold faces, my pies were gobbled up within five minutes, and off we went. Some participants would meet us at the station, another had banged his head and was with a doctor, he would catch up by taxi. It was -37 degrees outside. I received a full two metres of trolleybus tickets for our group.
This morning, a stranger with a big moustache walked into OKNA*. Without any introduction, he turned to me “Aha! You’re the young guy from England. I have just the question for you. How do young people get into building model ships in your country?”. Oh boy. Despite being the local expert on all things UK here in Krasnoyarsk, I was stumped. He is surprised at my lack of knowledge: “Surely model ship building isn’t happening out of sight!”. Well… I really didn’t want to disappoint him. It turned out he was a big fan of building model ships (Vice-President of model ship building in the Krasnoyarsk Administrative Region, no less), and he had been watching videos about model ship building in the UK. It turns out we hold big competitions in public swimming pools. He was also interested in finding out if I had any contacts high up in the Navy, as he was looking for the plans to a British ship that he couldn’t find on the Internet, and that no one was answering him about. As I wasn’t any use on this front either, he showed me a very long video of model ships bobbing up and down on a lake in nearby Zelenogorsk (a closed city, for which it is tricky, but not impossible, for foreigners to get a pass into). We chatted for half an hour about boats and parted as firm friends. I thought I would write a blog for the first time in a while to remember such moments. Continue reading
An important part of every long-term EVS project is the on-arrival training. Ten days after arriving in Krasnoyarsk, it was already time to head off again (but not for too long!). I took the a two-day train ride to Vladimir, a historical town near Moscow. The train there was good fun, there weren’t many people for once, so despite being top bunk, I had access to a table most of the time. I read Vladimir Sorokin’s new book “Manaraga”, a dystopian novel where books are only used as fuel for cooking high-end, black market, gastronomy. In one passage that I particularly enjoyed, one of the characters asks why Japanese food is loved all over the world but Russian food isn’t. The answer is that Japanese food is open, you can see exactly what sushi is made of. Fish, and rice. You can trust it. But who can tell what is hiding inside a bowl of borsch, a plate of pelmeni or a pirozhki? Russian food is closed, and you have to be on your guards. Of course, I don’t subscribe to this, I love Russian food. Sometimes it’s probably even for the best that I can’t tell what’s inside. Continue reading
I flew into Krasnoyarsk on the seventh of September, on Friday. Today is Tuesday. I had three flight changes on the way here, so I didn’t sleep at all. Instead, I read Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness*, which I bought at the WHS Smith in Heathrow (but it is also available in all good bookshops!). It’s very good. The first day was a bit of a waking dream because of the lack of sleep, but I’m still pretty sure it happened. I still don’t have a very clear idea of what life will be like in Krasnoyarsk, so in this first blog I will just try and jot down as many first impressions and experiences as possible, and give my loyal readers and super fans (of which I’m sure there will be many), a rough idea of the geography and atmosphere of the city. Maybe it can serve as a useful canvas for future adventures. Continue reading