Thursday, 7 January 2010

On the Seventh Day of January, My True Love Sent to Me...

...Bugger all to do, because the first week of January in Russia is their official Christmas, according to the Orthodox Calendar. I won't go into detail about Russian celebrations, safe to say that their 'Christmas' (i.e. all the gift-giving and celebrating on December 25th) falls on New Year's Eve due to the godless regime of the communists quashing anything to do with religion. I also won't touch on the Orthodox Church in Russia, other than the fact its rapid re-emergence since the 1990s has left NO separation between church and state in this country.

What I have been up to since my last post hasn't been that action-filled, but because it's the first week of January and that the whole country is officially comatose, I no longer have any excuse not to write something about last month. My months of being stingy have finally enabled me to waste it in more sensible ways - most prominent of which was a short trip to Shanghai.

Given the fact that a Belgian friend of mine was extremely kind enough to host me in the spare room of her gorgeous Shanghai flat, and the fact that Aeroflot (Russia's national airline) were doing deals at the time of purchase (approx 16,000 roubles round trip, or £320), meant that there was little reason not to get the hell out of Moscow for once.

Unfortunately, I have to confess that I'm one of the worst tourists in the world. I didn't take a single photo, mostly due to the fact that I don't have a digital camera (the one on my Nokia does not count), but I didn't really need to. It wasn't one of those "I need to embrace the local culture in full" type of trips. I just came to hang out, to see what life is like for my Belgian friend and her expatriate acquaintances there, to eat some weird vegetables that look like they are from outer space, to watch my friend argue with souvenir sellers, to shake my butt in extremely pretentious and overpriced nightclubs that have shark tanks by the dance floor located in skyscrapers, and to attend a party held by the local Russian community, only to pointlessly win a subscription to the local community rag in the lottery at the aforesaid party. All of these instances are short stories in themselves, and it would not be fair to cut them short in this entry.

Chiefly what I gathered there is that, much like Moscow isn't Russia, Shanghai isn't China. Oh sure there are Chinese people living there, and they all speak Chinese, but it's very Westernized, a bit of a concrete jungle in the center, but, at least to me, rather comfortable. Even though there are about 20 million people in Shanghai (roughly 5 million more than Moscow, officially), it didn't feel cramped in the slightest. Maybe something to do with the fact that I was on average about a foot taller than everyone else.

Moscow, on the contrary, especially with its winter workday commute on the metro, can be stressful for those who have not yet lost that part of their soul. Shanghai is clean, the locals don't scowl, and the living costs for foreigners are minuscule. Yes, they spit in the streets, but I'll take that over the foul Russian habit of clearing one's nose (Step 1: close one nostril. Step 2: blow out the other. Step 3: repeat with the other. Try to do it in a crowded area as possible for maximum revulsion) any day.

And yes, there are bicycles. Everywhere. Even my Belgian friend has one. Those songs you've heard about the Chinese and bicycles, they're all true. Just bicycles and taxis. The rest of the world should take note, rather than demonizing the Chinese for its sizable contribution to industrial pollution.


In other news, Mayor Yury Luzhkov's bullshit snow prevention plan has fallen on its arse. Someone sensible in the Russian Air Force (VVS - Voyenno-vozdushnye sily Rossii lit. Military-aerial strength of Russia) has said that they need two weeks notice before they do any cloud seeding. It doesn't really matter now, as Europe appears to have stolen this year's quota. That's not to say it isn't cold. It's very cold. The day I left for Shanghai it plummeted to -27ÂșC. It currently hovers around the -15 mark, which is just about the temperature where your nasal hairs start to freeze whenever you inhale.

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