Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's been a crazy few days...

...what with an unofficial birthday, being arrested and our last day of lectures.
I'll start with my Krasnoyarsk birthday. My real birthday is the 19th December, but by that time I'll be in Chicago (yay!)so the people here decided I needed a Russian birthday too. So during our lessons on Monday, I was surprised to learn that it was my unofficial birthday! It was loads of fun, we had cake and champagne at lunchtime, and hugs from all the Russians and stuff like that. In the evening we went to a Japanese restaurant on the south bank of the river, and ate lots of sushi (with more champagne!) which was really really good. I love sushi, and I think I converted a couple of hte others too :) After that good meal, we went to the pool hall where the Russians met us, and I got flowers and presents and thigs too! Thanks to Uliana for the shapchonka, and Andrei for the rose (don't get jealous Rob, it's normal for girls to get flowers from male friends here!), Julia for the CD and Dasha and co for the candle! Pool was a lot of fun, we taught Julia how to play (and almost won), ate more cake and had beer and generally ran riot in the place. We've been there before, it's fine!
Overall I had a really good day, although I must apologise to Roman for being the worst passenger at directing ever... I was more concerned with talking to Dasha and Olya than telling him where to go, which is fine except that he doesn't know where I live :)
The next day our adventures with the militsia took place. It all began very innocently, as we walked through the underpass by the cinema and stopped for a moment to eat the mince-pies that Marianna had sent us. Unfortunately for us, there were a couple of militsia guys standing down there too, out of the cold, who then came over and asked for our documents. I had mine (smug grin), but the others didn't - Ben had a photocopy, Rach and Sophie handed over their Durham campus cards, while Vicki and Christine decided to run away!  As I had my back to them I didn't see this, but I heard the details later - Christine almost deciding to hide in the slot-machine room, Vicki taking off her hat and pulling down her hood as a kind of "disguise"... good stuff guys.
Anyways, these two guys spent a long time scrutinising my passport and visa, and eventually decided I was missing some kind of stamp. He started writing out reports and things, while the other took Sophie outside (which we were most concerned about) - turns out that he said we could go if we paid a "fine" (read: bribe) of 1000Roubles. Sophie, perhaps too much influenced by our market experiences, tried to haggle, but he was having none of it, so they came back inside and he also started writing out forms. This was amusing. In Russia, people have a given name, a patronymic (derived from their father's name), and a surname. Now in England, we don't have patronymics. The militsia didn't seem to understand this, and were most aggrieved when we didn't tell them what our patronymics were. Eventually we settled on middle names, and that made them happy (despite it being nothing like derived from our fathers' names). One of them also decided he knew what he was talking about, so he kept correcting his friend, and then we had to keep correcting him... I spent a lot of that time trying not to laugh, they were a proper comedy double-act.
After that, some random passer-by started arguing with the militsia, asking how they dared to do this to us, and pointing out that if there were going to be illegal immigrants in Russia, they would not come from the UK. Fair point, I thought, but the coppers were determined - if they weren't going to get money out of us, they would at least waste our time.
Eventually we were put in a Soviet re-painted police jeep things, with our three "witnesses" (people dragged off the street) in the cage thing at the back and then us four English and one other random Russian on the back seat. I ended up sitting on Ben's knee, Rach was on Sophie's - it was exactly the kind of thing that you'd be arrested for in England, and here it was happening after. Oh well, this is Russia after all. After a short detour (I think one of the coppers was buying cigarettes) we got to the police station and waited in the back room with another bunch of people. They all seemed to be Kazakh or Mongolian, and there was one guy happily sleeping as he lay against the wall with a chainsaw at his feet. We stood around for a while, and then I was called over to the desk sergeant person (as I was the only one with documents). "Where is your registration stamp?" he asked. "I don't know," I answered, "Maybe it's in Naushki." This is the border town between Russia and Mongolia, and I think in truth that's where the registration stamp is. We didn't know we had to re-register when we re-entered the country, we'd been told our visa covered all this. Eventually Vera (our foreign students rep) turned up with photocopies of our documents when they still had the stamp, and after a conversation about Siberia and England ("How do you live without ice?" "Warmly!") with some random lawyer type person we were let go. Hurrah. Straight across the road to the nearest cafe!
The following day we were re-registered by the university. This should mean that we can actually leave the country now, which I feel is a bonus. I must just say that even though I texted my mother to say I was arrested, I've heard nothing from her. Maybe I've been disowned <sniff>.
Today was our last day of lectures. Another party! More champagne, cake and snacks, and lots of photos and presents and even certificates to say we studied there successfully. It was sad though, most of our teachers were really good, and since it's Krasnoyarsk's turn to send one to Durham next year we're campaining for our favourites :)
Now it's time to go home, and later we're heading down to Smaik to enjoy the gin and tonic in a can... with our passports in our pockets.


Syrrys said...

I don't suppose you got pictures of the jail/police staion? :P

glad it worked out alright!

I imagine that the US/Canadian customs/immigration folks will be much easier to deal with by comparison!

avatar_of_cunning said...

sure didn't take photos of the police station, that's a very good way to cause more trouble! Although it was considered... and immigration people? No problem, at least I can argue with them in English!

Mum said...

Hi Love,

I have not disowned you, when I read the text I thought (hoping) you were exagerating.
FIRMLY: Stop misbehaving!!
You did say don't worry so I did not immediatly drop everything and catch a flight to Russia.

I have been in Hamburg for a couple of days without email access I was intending to send you a very long email telling you off.

avatar_of_cunning said...

I wasn't misbehaving, unless eating mince pies in a subway thing counts as misbehaving... and it's all good, they let me out of the country and stuff so I'm safe in Chicago (they let me in this country too, which is nice).