Thanks to the efficiencies of the Chinese Embassy in Moscow, I will be in this fair city another entire week.
It’s a truly humbling experience to walk into a room and not understand a single word spoken or character written. Even with two languages represented – Russian and Chinese – there was no hope of any communication taking place.
I had done my homework before, though, so I already had completed an application form in English. Good thing too as the only applications on hand in the office were in Russian and Chinese and you can imagine what those looked like.
Armed with my application, passport, and extra passport photos taken just before departure that no longer bear much resemblance to my current appearance, I joined the longest queue and hoped for the best. (Incidentally, my passport photo was taken 10 years ago when I had acne and spiky hair; I have long flowing locks in my driver’s license photo, and my extras show me sans hair; today, I’m dark from hours in the fields and the grime of Moscow air and have seen enough hair growth to cause someone to ask me the other night if I was from Iran. I’m up a creek if somebody decides to take these photo ids seriously.) At the end of that longest of lines, I found English was spoken and all my documents were in order. I just needed to fill out an additional application form. Not sure why they couldn’t just make a copy of the original, but considering the alternatives floating through my mind I was happy to oblige, matching blanks and characters.
After making my way through the long queue a second time, I learn that my paperwork is indeed in order, but the embassy is backlogged and my visa won’t be ready until Monday week. Aaaargh.
In an effort to try to make something of my extra time in Moscow, I decided to attend a CouchSurfer’s gathering. Certainly glad I did, too, because within ten minutes of arriving I found a Polish travel buddy. Anna was planning to leave for Irkutsk-Ulan Bataar-Beijing on Sunday; I was going on Monday, so we decided to go together. Bought our tickets today. To travel 5000 miles over four days we paid a little more than $100. I think Amtrack should take some notes.
While in Moscow I’m staying with a journalist couple – Shura and Ulli – and their three children. It’s a four room flat on the 24th floor of a soviet era apartment building, so we have plenty of opportunity to chat. Ulli’s working on a story now about a group of cartoonists who are working to represent Russian culture in a positive light which led us to a wide-ranging discussion on patriotism.
According to Shura and Ulli, most Russians don’t really like Russia. A strange concept for this American to understand, since my experience has shown that in America, it’s not really ok to think like that. As Ulli pointed out, most Americans who protest the government do so because because they want to affect positive change.
Then, I got to answer the questions of all questions: what does it mean to be an American? I know a lot of people who would probably say that I’m not particularly well-qualified to answer this question seeing as how I don’t like the Fourth of July, apple pie, or football. I think I did a pretty good job though: fiercely independent, pioneering, freedom-loving, self-willing. It got Ulli’s attention who thought it was a great endorsement for America; which I found funny considering the earlier comment regarding my Iranian appearance.
Tomorrow is day 6 of 10 in Moscow and I’m running out of ways to fill the hours out of the smog and without spending an arm and a leg. I’m thinking I’ll head to the banya, but will also welcome suggestions if anyone’s got some insider knowledge. . .