Sunday, 30 May 2010

Not quite warts and all

Just came back from getting some passport photos for an ISIC card. Turns out that the process is a bit different here in Russia. No automated booths here spewing out endless recorded messages (if you've ever worked in a shop containing one, you will have experienced a powerful rage to smash it with a hammer).

Here it's a man in the back room of a pharmacy with a camera - and Photoshop. After taking the photos, he then wordlessly proceeded to remove every pimple, ancient acne scar and even most freckles and a mole, while leaving a shadow behind both my ears that makes me look like I have a mullet. Since I'd also had a shave just before going out, the result leaves my face looking smooth, plastic and barely inhabited. The general impression is Madame Tussaud's. Or David Cameron.

I would put the photo up here, but I'm a bit cowardly on the issue of identity theft, so I won't. If you know me, though, I'll show you if you ask nicely (and show me yours).

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Russian Music Wednesdays #2 - Kino

It's been a while since the last Russian Music Wednesday, chiefly because I've been a bit lazy. To make up

First up is Viktor Tsoi, probably the biggest Russian rock star of all time, with his band, Kino (Cinema). Originally an underground band distributing their music on scratchy copied tapes in early 1980s Leningrad (now St. Petersburg again), Kino became huge as the loosening of censorship under Gorbachev allowed them to reach a wider audience, and songs with barely-veiled political messages, like "Khochu Peremen" (I Want Change), became hits. The band broke up after Tsoi was killed in a car accident in 1990, but the songs are still widely recognised.

Here's their song "Zvezda Po Imeni Solnce" (A Star Called The Sun), which has a catchy tune and poetic lyrics (available here).

And, as a sign of their continuing popularity, here's a recent cover of Kino's "Kukushka" (Cuckoo) by Russia's ruling pop-rock artist, Zemfira (lyrics).

Next week, something darker.

Siberia trip (hopefully not too boastful)

(click to zoom in)
I can't wait for June 20. It's then that I'll get on a train which will take me out of Europe for the first time in my life. I'll get off the train 83 hours, 3,500 miles and five time zones later in Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Russian region of Buryatia, on the Mongolian border. Here's a rough idea of mine and my friend Sophie's basic but very, very cheap train accommodation:

Ulan-Ude, Wikipedia tells me, is not only Russia's biggest centre of Tibetan Buddhism, but also contains the world's biggest sculpture of Lenin's head and is twinned with Berkeley, California (not sure if there's a link there). There we'll meet up with another friend of mine, Dasha, who will come along with us and hopefully boost our rubbish haggling skills. We'll then go to stay on an island in the middle of Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, which looks like this. Not too bad, I hope you'll agree, and a spectacular end to my time in Russia.

I'll blog it if I get the chance, too.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

What I've been up to

I've been quiet recently, and this has, to my surprise, actually caused some people to complain. It's always nice to be needed.

I have a bit more time on my hands now, so I'll rectify this mistake by writing regularly over the coming weeks about my experiences in Russia (and hopefully for even longer than that, since I'm currently trying to get my visa extended). Living in Moscow has shown me I made the right move in choosing to study the language and culture of this amazing country, and I want to grasp as much of it as I can.

Anyway, here's a short summary of what I've been up to.

- Working at Feature Story News. I've been writing and voicing daily radio reports on Russian news for various radio stations. If you're a regular listener to Voice of Nigeria, Vatican Radio, FM4 Austria or Radio New Zealand, you may already have heard cutting-edge reporting in my Worcestershire lilt. If not, my pieces are pretty often on the FSN World News Podcast. I also do research and investigative work for TV features, and write for FSN's reporters' blog, where my latest piece contains a truly awful pun at the end of the second paragraph. Don't look, whatever you do.

- Writing for NewsBase. I'm a regular stringer, mostly covering Germany but starting to write about Russia too. Should you be lucky enough to be a subscriber to the EurOil European Oil and Gas Monitor, my latest market commentary makes German refineries sound incredibly exciting. If you produce petrochemicals, I am rocking your world.

- Planning a huge trip to Siberia. More on this soon.

- Teaching English. I approached this as a way of making a little extra money but I've started to really enjoy it. Mortified last week when my 'advanced' group started to correct my spelling.

- Immersing myself in Russian culture. It's what I'm here for, and it's been going well. My knowledge of the language is slowly improving, although I haven't used it as much as I'd like. I'm trying not to be too stereotypical an expat, although I'll admit a weakness for one pub here that sells finest Suffolk cider.