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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 281 of 297
06 September 2015 at 12:56pm | IP Logged 

This day started less promising. I wake up to the smell of smoke, and am out on the floor in a second,
thinking that there is a fire somewhere. Then I realize that it is just the usual smoke from the forest fires, but
that today it is worse than ever. The two first days it was just a visual problem, and was more fog than
smoke,now I am starting to have problems breathing and the smell of smoke is quite strong.

I actually considered going home. This vacation was turning into a nightmare. I could be home, in my own
nice house with my daughter, breathing in wonderful, fresh air, walking along the beach or in a nice forest,
instead of having to sleep with my window shut. It was actually significantly worse air here than in Moscow.
And I missed my daughter so much that I was going crazy. In Moscow I was busy all the time, and I could
speak to her on Skype. Here I had way too much time to think, and there was no Internet connection.

Before breakfast it was the usual queue to the bathroom and at breakfast today's porridge was not one I was
able to eat. I am a huge fan of porridge in general. It is very simple food, but I have very simple tastes, I don't
need caviar or champagne, I'll be perfectly content with porridge as long as it tastes nice. This one tasted
awful. The only one I have tried which was worse, was when I was at the folk museum in Oslo, and tasted
what the very poorest people used to eat 200 years ago, known as 'vassgraut' or water porridge, and which
consisted of two ingredients only. Flour and water. There was however half a piece of bread with cheese and
a small cookie for each too, so I ate that. The only available drink is concentrate of tea which you mix with hot
water. I am fine with that. Except that I am so distracted that the first day I filled my cup with hot water, before
I understood that there were no tea bags, just concentrate of tea, and by then there was no room in my cup
for the tea, and the second day I filled my cup with the tea which of course was way too strong. And cold. And
I had no room left for the hot water. The rest of the week I got it right however. But I must admit that this was
not quite what I expected. I knew it would be simple, but the Russian kitchen I am used to is known for high
quality and generous portions, even if the ingredients may be inexpensive. In fact Russian, as well as
Norwegian, Italian and Spanish cuisine are based on inexpensive ingredients. The food we are getting here,
you could not have served in a Norwegian prison without getting a prison revolt. Coming to think of it, you
probably could not have served it at a Russian prison without getting a prison revolt either. It's the kind of
food I could imagine you would get if you told a cook to make a menu for a lot of people which would cost
only 5 dollars a day, and he decided to put 50% of that in his own pocket.

And the first thing I saw after we started today's trip was the head of a dead cow in the middle of the street. I
did not look around to see if I could see the rest of the carcass.

When we got down to the harbor we saw a lot of incredibly rusty ships on land - like a scene out of Leviathan
- and a building which looked like it was bombed. The latter turned out to be an old fishing factory. I took
some pictures, because I thought that if I just tried to describe how this looked, nobody would ever believe

We were going on a boat trip, and I got pretty mad at our guide. I had been very specific, in telling her that I
did not need her to translate or even repeat in Russian what she said when she guided, I was fine with not
understanding so much, but that it was very important that she told me where to be when, and what to bring.
In the morning, when I saw that she had written a note in Russian I asked her when we were supposed to
meet, and she told me to meet at 10.30, and to bring my warmest clothes. And only when we were already at
the harbor, she informed me that she hoped that I had brought swim wear, since we would be bathing, and a
bottle, since we were going for a walk to a magical source. 'Elvira,' I protested, 'you need to tell me these
things'. 'But I wrote it on the note!' But I can't read Russian handwriting, that is why I asked you! She
promised to tell me in the future. I hope she will. I said the same thing to Sergey, our guide on the boat,
explaining that my Russian was not that good, and that I needed him to make sure that I had understood the
important things, like where to go and when to be back. He assured me that my Russian was great, that he
would keep me informed and then completely neglected to do so for the rest of the trip. Oh, well. At least he
got me an empty bottle which I could bring to the source. I have no idea how he knew that I needed one, and
for the rest of the trip the rest of the group made sure I got where I was supposed to be. A few of them asked
to take my picture, and one of them, Galina, said that I had such a lovely smile, with dimples and all, and that
when I smiled I looked like I was 15 years old. I'll be looking like a baby by the time Russians are through
complimenting me. :-) Natalia interpreted a bit for me into English, she and Aleksei made sure I got a seat on
the boat, and Aleksei got me a blanket so I would keep warm. That is where I found out why Alexei had been
staring at me so sternly the first day. Turns out I was the spitting image of his godmother, Olga, in St.
Petersburg. He had said to his girlfriend: "You remember you have asked me how my godmother looks? Well
that is exactly how she looks." Imagine that, that I should have a double in St. Petersburg :-)

Alexei had been in the US for 6 months when he was young, and I could not help but laugh at his
experiences. He told me he got a total linguistic shock when he first came there. He had had top grades in
English, and had been assured by his teacher in Russia that his English was great. And then when he came
to the US, for the first days he did not understand anything and he was incapable of saying anything. "They
must have thought I was crazy, and that they had made a mistake inviting me", he said. Then after a few
days he adjusted, and he could both understand and speak. The fact that Alexei is a very serious and somber
looking guy who does not like to smile (hence my shooting or drowning theory) probably did not help either.
Particularly in the US where they smile so easily. Actually I think he did fairly well. When I came back to
Spain the third time when I was 19, I had so much interference from French, and had forgotten so much
Spanish that I did not speak for three full months. Of course, once I could speak again, I did not shut up for
the following three :-) Alexei also told me that he had had the opportunity to stay in the US, but that his
mother had insisted that he come back to Russia. He did so, but it was in the 90ies, and coming back to
Russia was a shock as well. I asked him if he had regretted coming back, and he said he had. I did not dare
to ask him if he still regretted it. I am genuinely interested in people, but sometimes I can be too direct and
too inquisitive, and I am always afraid of overstepping any boundaries. Generally people really appreciate
that you show interest in their lives, but you never know when something is too personal, particularly when
you speak with someone from another culture. Natalie, his girlfriend, had learned her English while working
for international firms - and through extensive traveling - and I find it quite impressive that her English is so
good just based on that. Occasionally she will say something funny though. Like today, she came over and
asked me if I would like her to shoot me. I answered that I would rather stay alive, so she answered "ok" and
turned away. I had to call her back and said that I would love for her to take my picture - which was of course
what she meant. I also got a nice picture with her and Alexei, though the photographer (an Austrian we
borrowed) had to make so many tricks to make Alexei smile, that I was laughing uncontrollably, and was
barely recognizable at the picture.

The others in the group were also super friendly and caring, always made sure I had somewhere to sit, that I
would know where to go, and even made sure I had sugar for my tea and sour cream for my soup. They all
know my name, and they really could not have been any nicer. I highly doubt that a Russian woman, or a
person of any nationality actually would have been so warmly welcomed by a group of Norwegians. 10 years
ago, I was on a Scandinavian gardening trip to England, when one of my friends brought his Russian
girlfriend that he had only met in person three days before (they had corresponded for a while). Out of the
group I and two of my friends were actively nice to her - she was with a friend, and she was a foreigner which
is all I needed to know to be extra nice to her - the majority of the group were indifferent - and 5-6 women that
were common acquaintances of ours were down right hostile. For some incomprehensible reason it made
them absolutely furious that he brought her the food at the restaurant, carried her suitcase, payed for her and
looked after her in every possible way. That is admittedly a bit weird to a Norwegian, but my basic view, even
back then, was that how they arranged that between themselves was no one else's business and I could not
possibly see how it could hurt them or bother them in any way, shape or form. I think it was a sort of jealousy,
that she was given a treatment that none of them got, and I would have given anything to have the cultural
insight that I have now, and could have told them that in Russia that is 100% normal, and that he was simply
adapting to her customs. He did in fact tell them that, but they just brushed him off as a lovesick fool. If I had
said it too, they might have turned it down a notch, but my 'it's none of our business, and look how sweet they
are together' fell on deaf ears. And when one of the Danish ladies tried to do a kind act to her, the cultural
shock could not have been greater. When you visit gardens, you need really practical footwear, and clothes
in general, because you walk on grass and mud. I don't think Irina had much experience with gardening tours,
so she turned up in a beautiful dress and high heels. One of the Danish ladies felt so sorry for her that she
run up to find an extra pair of running shoes for her to borrow. The look of horror and shock on Irina's face
when she saw the worn and run down shoes she was expected to wear, I will never forget, but she was a real
lady, so she just thanked the Danish woman but said they would not fit her. Anyhow, I am really touched by
everyone being so kind to me here.

Sadly we could hardly see more than a few meters beyond the boat because of the smoke, and what would
normally have been a fantastic boat trip with stunning views, was again a total disappointment. And the
lunch? Well when a dry biscuit is the high point of the meal, then you can just imagine yourself. Today's soup
was with meat, but there was less than a spoonful of meat per portion. And today we did not even get water
to drink with the cabbage salad and soup which is the standard lunch menu. No stream close by...

What worried me more was that the smell of smoke was so strong that I was having increasing problems to
breathe, and at one point we appeared to be driving straight towards the smokiest area. I discussed it with
one of the other passengers, who said that we must either be close to a fire, or strong winds must be blowing
the smoke towards us.

The magical source turned out to be two half broken, wooden planks with a small stream of water on each. I
am not knocking anyone's religious beliefs, but... Ok. I won't say anything. The walk up to the source had
been a steep one, and I was wearing all the warm clothes the guide has told s to bring, so I just filled my
bottle and drank. When I had done so, one of the women protested, and said I had filled it from the wrong
plank. There was one for women and one for men! I just shook my head in disbelief and continued back
down. But if I suddenly get a masculine voice and start chasing girls, you know I should not have drunk water
from the wrong plank :-)

On our way down from the source, Natalia and I discussed literature - we are both avid readers and we both
like the rather curious combination of detective stories and Tolstoi. We had a long discussion on Anna
Karenina, and I told her how my perspective had changed with the years. When I first read it as a 13-year old,
I felt nothing but contempt for both Karenin and Vronskij. I felt they were both horrible, selfish people who let
Anna down, but today, with the eyes of a mature woman, who understand more about the times they lived in,
I understand that they both loved her very much, and went as far as they could within their cultural context,
and that they were also victims of the society they were living in. I have bought the old Russian film version of
Anna Karenina, with the same actress who was the lead in 'The Cranes are flying' playing Anna. I can't wait
to see it.

In the evening we were invited to Karaoke, and not being one to refrain from any cultural experience, I did of
course go. Not that I have the faintest idea of how to sing Russian karaoke (in fact I discovered many years
ago, that any potential as a karaoke singer in me is non-existent in any language) but I figured I could listen
to the others. When I got there we were told to split into teams, and that we had to chose a captain, and
obviously on my team they chose the one who could not protest, that is, me. I told them that I hoped that they
realized that that was an absolute guarantee that we would lose (which we by the way also did) but they just
laughed, and said that it was not so important, and that I should not worry. Which I of course did anyway.
Since it took a while before they could make the TV work, we started talking, and Irina and Alexander from St.
Petersburg turned out to have been on a two week tour to Norway, and had seen places even I had not seen.
We also had a quiz based on the guiding given, but since that had been given at about 160 km per hour too
fast for me, I could not answer any of the questions. A couple of the girls on my team won a prize each
though. So we did not do too badly.

Since I did not know any of the songs, have lost my singing voice, and am not able to read Russian as fast as
it passes by in a karaoke text, I had decided to keep my mouth shot in order not to sabotage the efforts of my
team, but after having listened to them for a while I joined in anyway, and shouted out 'milij, milij Augustin'
(sweet, sweet Augustin) with the rest of them. I can't sing anymore, but neither could anyone else :-) We
basically all joined in for all the songs anyway, it was more about having fun than about competing, which
was just as well, because I did not hear a single one who could sing in tune. And you might have thought
that a party of karaoke singing Russians would demand copious amounts of vodka. Well no. Not a drop of
alcohol was served. Unlike Norwegians who actually need alcohol to make a fool of themselves, Russians
are perfectly happy to do so completely sober. In fact none of them had as much as a drop of alcohol all
week. I really am starting to think that Russians drinking a lot of alcohol, is simply a myth. Mid way through, I
was dragged out on the dance floor by some of the other women, and since I could not very well pretend that
my lack of Russian skills would prevent me from dancing, I joined in, and saw again that no one can shake
their tush like middle aged women when there are few men around to watch :-) And that is regardless of
nationality. The last song was supposed to be sung by the team captain. Luckily none of the other team
captains knew the songs they were supposed to sing either, so we all delegated the task to a second in
command. We still came in last, but at least it was not my fault, and we had good fun.

And when we had finished, my team mates insisted on giving me the prizes they had won, since I had
accepted to be team captain. Well, accepted is perhaps too strong a word... Did not run away screaming,
might be more accurate. I thanked them, and then the team who had won, turned around and said. "Of
Russians, we have many. Of foreigners we have only one, so we want to give this prize to Cristina, so that
she will remember us, and have good memories from the trip. " And then there were hugs all around. I was
very touched, and they really are the sweetest ever. And yes, thanks to the group I will have some good
memories from the trip.

One thing is that I am in the process of developing a general crush on all Russian men who are not too
young, too old or genuinely horrible. But the thing is that I love the women just as much. I know I am
repeating myself, but it is becoming more and more of a mystery to me why Russians are considered cold,
because you really could not find a kinder, warmer and more helpful people if you tried. They may take a little
longer to get to know than some nationalities, but once you do, you discover that they have hearts the size of

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 Message 282 of 297
17 September 2015 at 5:39am | IP Logged 
Singing karaoke in a foreign country in a foreign language would be a lot of fun for me
too. I only twice in my life sang karaoke in public, one time in my own city in Germany
where I sang a German song and the second time in the "Roof Top Bar" of the Polyglot
Gathering 2014 where I sang "In the Ghetto" of Elvis Presley in English. Such a pity,
that at the time of the Polyglot Gathering 2015 there was no karaoke in the hotel again.


Edited by Fasulye on 17 September 2015 at 5:40am

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 Message 283 of 297
17 September 2015 at 8:11pm | IP Logged 
There was actually a cultural evening last year too at the end of the polyglot gathering - but I had fled to Poland by then because of the impending railway strike so I can't vouch for the quality nor the quantity of the singing.

Edited by Iversen on 18 September 2015 at 10:52am

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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 284 of 297
29 September 2015 at 1:59pm | IP Logged 


And Wednesday on Olkhon Island - how did that day start? Well Wednesday started with me waking up
around 3 in the morning, and then every 30 minutes from then on, asking myself how a woman who was
sober and supposedly of sound mind, could say yes to getting up at 6 in the morning after having been at the
karaoke party last night until past midnight, in order to be ready to go swimming in the Lake Baykal at 6.30 in
the morning. Did I mention that the water of the Lake Baykal is absolutely freezing? That it is particularly cold
when it is almost the month of September, and that at 6.30 in the morning it is colder than the rest of the day?
And how incredibly warm and cozy it is in bed at that time of the morning?

Anyhow, having given my word to Veronica from RZD , I did not intend to go back on that, so at 6 I got up,
and at 6.30 sharp we headed towards the beach. I thanked my creator that at least there was not any strong
wind or rain, that would have been more than I could bear, but I was not quite sure how I would deal with the
ice cold water. However, as is often the case, it turned out to be more a matter of preparing yourself mentally
than of being able to stand the physical cold. I went in, without any illusions of this being pleasant, just willing
myself to do it, and it went beautifully. I, who usually spend 5 minutes getting into the water because I think it
is too cold, was in the water in less than 30 seconds, and I kept swimming for almost 20 minutes, no banya
no nothing, and after a while it actually felt really, really warm. When I started feeling like my skin was on fire,
I knew that it was time to get the hell out of there. The husband of a friend of mine went through the ice while
skiing some years ago, and when they found him, he was almost naked. Apparently when you are subjected
to really freezing water, your system sort of shuts down, and you get a feeling of extreme heat. He had
undressed because he felt too hot, and froze to death. Obviously, I was not there, but I decided that it was a
good idea to pay attention to the body's warning signals, so when I started feeling very warm, I knew I was in
danger. We were told that the water in the Lake Baykal is between 8 and 12 degrees, and I am sure that it
was at least 10, possibly 12 :-) They have two words for swimming in Russian, one that my teacher in
Moscow said is being used mostly for men, 'plavatj' and one that is used mostly for women and children
"katatca'. I first found that very chauvinistic, but now I understand why. The Russian woman I have seen in
the water do not swim in the conventional sense of the word. While I took a long swim, they just jumped
around in the shallow part of the beach and got wet. And took lots of pictures :-) Plus I heard that word used
also for men while I was in Irkutsk. I imagined that perhaps the second one could more easily be translated
as "bathing", something which my colleague later confirmed for me. However the Russians have had some
very good female Olympic swimmers, so some of them are obviously good at swimming :-)

They took a couple of pictures of me while bathing, and I am considering posting one of them on Facebook,
even though I normally shun bikini pictures like the plague. The thing is that they took a picture while I am
screaming at the top of my voice, "Holy Jesus, this is COLD!" And from the expression of pain and horror on
my face, you would think I saw the Loch Ness monster tower above me. It would be a nice change from all
the "smiling, standing in front of something pretty' pictures that I usually post.

The weird thing was that after I got up and dried myself and put on warm clothes, I did not feel warmer, I felt
colder. I don't know if that was because I had been numbed down by the cold water,and simply started to feel
my limbs again, but as we started walking I felt waves of cold. I took a long, hot shower when I got back. Still
cold. I put on all my warmest woolen underwear and took my duvet around me. Still cold. I decided that I
probably needed some hot tea, and went for the breakfast room, where we got quite a decent breakfast. Oat
meal porridge, bread with sausage and blinis with sweet, condensed milk. We have not really used
condensed milk in Norway since WW2, but I have eaten it in Ukraine, and my daughters absolutely love it. I
told the two girls at my table that I was still cold after the bath, and they said that the cold came from within,
and that I needed vodka. I am afraid that I am not quite that Russian yet that I can deal with vodka at 9 in the
morning, but I have no doubt that it would have helped. As it was, I opted for the hot porridge and three cups
of hot, sweet tea, after which I felt fine.

Today's excursion was a bus tour around the Olkhon Island to a number of viewpoints. It would have been
stunning if we could have seen more than 40-50 meters, but again, we could not. The lunch was as awful as
ever, and today I discovered that I am not the only one to feel cheated. The others are also upset that what
was sold in to them as 'The wonders of the Baykal and the Olkhon Island", with pictures which are absolutely
amazing turns out to be at a place which is as ugly as sin, barren and with the most unattractive architecture I
have seen ever on any place on the planet, and food where the best thing you can say about it is that the
portions are really, really tiny. And the fact that the one redeeming quality, which are the stunning views
around the island is covered in smoke which the tour agency said was a fiction, does not make them any less
mad. Russians are however an incredibly patient people, so they do not complain. They probably assume
that nothing will change even if they do, so they might make the best out of it.

I decided during lunch today that I will change my focus, and forget about Kamchatka and the Altai
mountains, and concentrate on the cities instead. Russia has an endless supply of beautiful cities, with top
service, and I think that is more me. I do not appreciate being at a really ugly place, queue up to go to the
bathroom every morning, before having an 8 hour stint with no decent place for a bathroom break at all (the
places we can use are so beyond description, that a few of the girls preferred the bushes today, and I am
rediscovering my ability to simply not go for a whole day). And I do not appreciate to eat (or partly not eat -
the fish soup we were offered today turned my stomach) my lunch sitting on the ground, as we did today,
eating out of a partly dirty dish, not getting anything to drink while having paid four times more than I paid for
a five star all-inclusive hotel in Turkey. It simply is not worth it. I am too much of a creature of comfort. I said
to one of the other ladies that when I told most Russians I met that I was going to the Lake Baykal, they
usually told me that it was their big dream. "Yes, that is because they have not actually been here", she said.

And what bugs me, is that it would not take much to change the experience radically. With a few decent
restrooms at key points, normal vehicles, cleaning up some of all the garbage and rusty buildings and boats
that are around and good food in normal portions, this could be an amazing place. It is not like the Buryats
would have to radically change their culture in order to accommodate the tourists. I doubt that garbage and
disgusting restrooms is an intrinsic part of the Buryat culture. The buildings on Olkhon Island would still be
unimaginably ugly, the land would be brown and barren, there is not much you can do about that, at least not
in a short time, but if the rest was in place, no one would care, and of course most people are here when
there are not fires all around which covers the area in grey smoke. Taking all the cows out of the streets
would help too. God, I wish I was the tourist minister of Russia for a few months. I would turn this place into
what the commercials says it is.

Anyhow for future trips I want a nice hotel with my own bathroom, and good food, and beautiful Orthodox
churches and buildings, and a nice cup of tea or coffee from a restaurant where knives are not something
which is available only every third day. If I ever come back to the Lake Baykal - and that is a big if - I will go to
Listvianka which is on the main land - which means a less strenuous trip, and hopefully a higher quality.

We had a freshly made piroshki for desert today, so with a big smile I asked what it was filled with. It was
filled with mashed potatoes. I am simply lost for words.

In the evening I asked the guide for the name and telephone number for the travel agency. I did not want to
be stranded without any information again. She gave me a telephone number and a first name, Marina, and
claimed that she did not know the name of the travel agency. I don't normally suspect people of lying, but I
admit that I found that extremely hard to believe. Particularly when one of the others said everyone else in the
group had come through an agency called Baikalterra, which name was also the password for the hotel

Oh, bliss! There was coffee for breakfast today. I actually rarely drink coffee, I am more of a tea drinker, but
after having had tea for every meal since I got here, a cup of coffee tasted like Heaven.

We have no organized tour today, and I decided to not chose any of the optionals. I just want to relax and
pack and take a little walking tour around the village, and take pictures. There is no way people will believe
just how ugly this is without photographic proof. And I have managed to change rooms so that I now have my
own bathroom, and will just feel the supreme joy of having a day when I can go to a clean bathroom
whenever I feel like it. :-)

At breakfast today I exchanged addresses with Natalia and Alexei, and invited them to Norway. I would love
for them to visit me :-) We started speaking about how people met, and I told them how I met my husband on
a Polish course. They had met because Alexei had the apartment above Natalia's and one day when she
came back from a business trip her bathroom was flooded, from water from Alexei's flat. Natalia, and her
father and brother turned up on Alexei's doorstep absolutely furious, (he told me that he heard some Russian
words he had never heard before that day...) so he got a bit concerned, but after showing them the contract
which showed that this was his landlady's responsibility, and not his, they all calmed down. Three months
later he and Natalia met in the common yard, and after that, they have been together. How incredibly
convenient to date your neighbor! Incredibly inconvenient if you break up, of course, but they are very much
in love, and so sweet together, so I am sure that will not happen.

The rest of the day I just relaxed, wrote on this blog, packed and since I suddenly got Internet I could -for
better for worse - start communicating with the world around me. And reflect. This trip did not turn out quite
the way I had anticipated. I said before I left that this would either be the worst, or the best trip of my life.
Would it make sense if I said it has been both? In some respects it was a disaster of a trip. Going to a place
known for its spectacular views and clean air, to not see anything and breathe in smoke? Not ideal. Pay an
exorbitant price for having horrible food and no bathroom breaks for 8-9 hours at the time? Not my idea of fun
either. But I did get to fulfill my dream of swimming in the Lake Baikal, 4 times:-) - I got to speak and listen to
lots of Russians, and I got to stay for a week with some of the kindest people I have met. The one thing which
would have made me utterly and totally miserable was if I had been left to sit alone at the meals, if no one
had talked to me, or even been unfriendly.   Right now, with the world scene being how it is, they might have
been forgiven for being reserved towards a foreigner who did not speak the language all that well. But on the
contrary, they could not have been nicer or done more to include me. I only sat alone twice, the first evening,
when I knew no one, and the last evening when I came to the cafeteria sort of in between, and I was
expecting a couple of the others who were delayed. When one of the others discovered on her way out that I
had sat alone, she was aghast, saying that I should have come and sat at their table. "But your table was
full", I said. "We would have made room for you!", she said. Even when I was at the harbor that first day
being lost, feeling totally alone in the world, there were strangers who came up to me and offered help.

At the last breakfast Lena came over to say goodbye and to give me her address and last name which turned
out to be Kalashnikova of all things. I told her that people would not believe me when I came home and told
them that, and she just laughed and said that it was not an uncommon name. During breakfast I also talked
to a man in the group who asked me how I had liked the trip. I told him, as true was, that it would have been a
lot better if we had not had all the smoke, but that it had been a pleasure to know all of them. He nodded and
said yes, Russians are very open and welcoming. I said that I agreed, but, that unfortunately their reputation
abroad was not quite like that, but that in my experience they were even more open than most westerners .
He told me that he had an army friend who had gone to live in Barcelona, and who had felt so alone and
isolated in Spain that he cried. And for me the image of a tough, Russian soldier, who could probably resist
pain and cold and hunger, but who broke down under the burden of solitude, was a very strong one. It is not
for nothing that the absolute and ultimate penalty even for the most hardened criminals is isolation. I have
received nothing but kindness and warmth - both in Spain and in Russia, and for that I am eternally grateful. I
know of people who have negative experiences from both countries, but I have always been treated like a
princess. They usually treat me even better than they treat their own, so I have absolutely no complaints. I
told him that I had dreamt about coming here for three years, and that I was sad that my dream - quite literally
- had turned to ashes. He looked at me with a little smile, and said that he had dreamt about coming here
since he was 11 years old, and now he was 51, so he had kept the dream alive for 40 years. I felt ashamed of
myself. I have seen so many beautiful places, particularly in Russia, that I have no right to moan.

He turned out to be from Kazan, and I was incredibly happy to be able to tell him that I had been there just a
couple of weeks ago, and that I absolutely adored it. He asked me what I thought of the people there, and I
could again, tell him absolutely truthfully, that I loved them. He was very pleased to hear that, and I was
happy to show him that I was not a sour puss who was generally hard to please.

I got to say goodbye to Aleksej and Natalia who promised to come and visit me in Norway - which I really
hope they do. And I gave Irina the receptionist a big hug and told her that she was the best part of Olkhon
Island. Which she was.

The car which took us back to Irkutsk was not in a good state, but at least I was not in any danger of falling
into anyone's lap, as we were sitting 'like sill in a barrel' as we would say in Norwegian. There were no safety
belts, but I don't think I could have moved anyhow. I was absolutely stuck. I was in the very corner of the
bus, and my right shoulder got a beating for every sharp curve the bus took. And on the Olkhon Island there
are lots of those... The driver did not only not know which hotel I was going to, but when I told him the name
of it, he had never heard of it, so there was a round calling the travel agency (to which I still have no name -
only a first name and a cell phone number) and trying to understand the street name over the phone. I don't
think I have ever been on a trip with so many misunderstandings and insecurities. "I'm glad this ain't my first
rodeo", to quote Dr. Phil :-)

Getting into the hotel in Irkutsk was a little bit of heaven, though. The first hotel I stayed at in Irkutsk was fairly
rough, and I assumed that this was what hotels were like in Siberia, but the hotel Victoria, which I was
staying at now, was fantastic. It could have competed with any hotel in London or Paris. Bathtub, heating in
the bathroom, air condition, comfortable double bed. Heaven.

Since I was very hungry, I went to a local restaurant called 'Antrecote', which I probably any other day would
have thought of as an ordinary, nice restaurant. Right now it felt like paradise. I did not want to leave. In fact I
wanted to bring the whole restaurant with me home to Norway. Normally I would have only one course and
water - I don't have space for much more - but I felt like someone who had crossed the desert and just
tumbled into a place with every drink in the world, so I ordered both a sill version of Salad Olivier, porc
shashlik, a smoothie and a mandarin mojito (yes, I know that last part sounds crazy, but it tasted
wonderfully). And then I ordered some garlic bread for good measure. I was of course full after the starter and
two bites of the shashlik, but I heroically tried to get through the rest, though failing miserably. I had planned
which desert to order, but I could not have eaten a bite of it if they had payed me a million. I had a mental
picture of myself lying on the bed, like a whale, head down on one side, legs down on the other, and it felt like
my stomach had expanded six times. It still felt so good though. I think I had underestimated how much good
food means for my well being. It is a lesson I have learned for future trips.

The next morning at 7, I was bright eyed and fairly bushy tailed when the driver came to pick me up, but not
looking forward to a journey of 21 hours. I left Irkutsk at 7 in the morning, was supposed to get home at 10,
and when you then factor in the 6 hours time difference, it is a really, really long day.

The security check was really convenient, no hassle about taking out liquids or iPad. They just x-ray your
luggage. They do one thing which is really smart, though, and that is that they check you on your way into the
airport. In Norway they just check you when you are well inside the airport, which of course gives you an
excellent opportunity to blow the whole airport to kingdom come.

The information systems are however not good for nervous people. There is one time of departure on my
ticket, a second one on my boarding card and a third one on the board at the airport. Not ideal. And we will in
principle get to know the gate by listening to announcements over the loud speaker. There is a board, but the
information does not appear there until 10 minutes after it has been announced. Fortunately two of the people
from my group were on the same flight, and they made sure I got on it all right.

I initially believed that I was only to spend a couple of hours at the airport in Moscow, but when I checked the
times, I realized that I had 7 long hours to wait. I was not looking forward to that. However I have a wonderful
colleague in Moscow, who I keep posted of my journeys in Russia, and when he heard both what a bad week
I had had, and of my long wait at the airport, he came and picked me up at the airport, took me home to have
a lovely lunch with his family, and took me back to the airport. Did I mention that I love Russians :-) Of course
when he had mentioned his house and garden outside Moscow, I assumed that he meant a small cottage
with a kitchen garden, which is the perception I have of a datcha, when in reality he had a gorgeous house
with a lovely park-like garden, three times the size of mine. And I got to meet his lovely family, beautiful wife,
two cute kids, and in-laws I would like to adopt, who had even been to Norway. His mother in law was very
careful to speak so slowly and clearly that I could understand everything she said, and his father in law was
also super friendly and spoke slowly enough so that I understood most of what he said. And I spoke Russian
in front of my colleague! Speaking to him and my other colleague was my last frontier, the one thing I could
not do, and yet I have done it. I am so proud of myself! We had two lovely salads, and baked apple with duck,
which was not only extremely tasty, but also very healthy :-)

I then got a treat in the shape of a tour around the garden, and registered that the plants grown in Moscow
and Oslo are very similar, and ripen at the same time. And my colleague had bought me a film witch he said
every Russian quoted from, an audio book with an accompanying book and I also received two jars of his
wife's wonderful black currant jam.

I have been debating with myself whether I would still have gone on this trip had I known how it would turn
out, and if I would recommend others to go. The answer to the first question is no. I had dreamed about the
Lake Baikal for so long, and I am sorry that I did not get to see all the spectacular views it is famous for. But I
actually would not tell others not to go. I was very unlucky with the timing. Inhaling smoke for a week and not
seeing anything, was awful, but it is unlikely to happen again. And not everyone is as fussy about bathroom
facilities that I am. And the food - well it was certainly not the pride of Siberia, or Russia, for that matter, but it
was better than on the TransSiberian Express, and if I had been as well prepared (both mentally, and with
bringing extra food) as I was then, it would not really have registered.

On my way to the airport in Irkutsk, the driver asked me what I had thought of Baikal. I told him. He thought
for a long time, and then he said: "Come back in the winter". "Why in the winter", I asked. "No fires", he said
with a big smile.

When I got to the exit at the airport of Oslo, I suddenly heard someone crying my name, and before I knew it
my 15 year old daughter flew into my arms. She had turned up with a big poster with my picture on and " I
love you mom " in four different languages! I was so surprised, because I have not been met at the airport of
Gardermoen, Oslo, since it opened in 1998. I have not been picked up at the airport here by anyone since my
father used to come and pick me up when I was young. In my family it was a normal thing to pick up any
member of the family who arrived at the airport, even if we lived in a different city, and had a two hour drive to
the airport. My husband, however, figured I could take public transport, and did not even want to come and
meet me when I begged him to, because I was arriving at 1 in the morning with two small children. So for me
being met at the airport is a big treat, and today it had happened not once, but twice :-) That was like
Christmas and my birthday on the same day!

I was really impressed by my daughter coming the long way to the airport, because her father had left the
country and she had to travel alone to the airport by bus and train, and to be sure to be there in time, she had
to leave the house two hours and a half before my scheduled arrival. And then my flight was delayed. And on
top of everything she had to fend of a couple of Italians on their twenties on the railway station, who did not
particularly care that she was much too young for them. In the end she had had to shout to them: " I'm 15, I'm
a minor!!! " And she had expected me to see her and her big welcome sign, but of course I did not even look
in the direction of the people standing there, and even when she said 'mom' I still did not react, so she had to
run after me and shout my name. It was wonderful to see her. We had been apart for 5 weeks, and she had
been miserable while I had been gone, and I had been pretty miserable in Siberia, so we sat with our arms
around each other all the way home, and curled up in each others arms when we went to sleep. "Borte bra
men hjemme best" ( Away is good, but home is best :-)


After a 21 hour journey across 5 time zones, I would normally have slept late the next day, particularly since it
was a Sunday. Unfortunately, as I was receiving a guest the very next day, I was up again after three hours'
sleep (hello jet lag, my old friend) and started on the hour's drive towards the airport. And then I had to
recalibrate my head from all Russian to all English, since my guest is American. Since that is one of my
stronger languages, that was not a problem, but when I on Monday had an Italian class it was a pure
massacre. I can normally switch between languages effortlessly, but when I am in the process of learning a
new language, the other languages suffer. And Italian is the main victim. It physically hurt to get the words
out. The teacher obviously did not speak any Russian, so I somehow had to communicate in Italian, but I was
happy that my colleague speaks Russian, so that I had a witness who could confirm that I was not just
babbling, I was just substituting the Italian words with Russian ones. I was starting to understand how Ziadh
Fazah felt on Chilean TV.

Three days after my guest's arrival I was due for surgery, so on Thursday I was hospitalised - but the
operation was postponed until Monday - and then it was postponed to next Thursday...   They got in people
from accidents who they had to operate first, and then they had to postpone mine twice. My youngest
daughter got a severe cold, so we both had to wear mouth protection so I would not catch it before I went into
surgery, and I got a telephone call from my daughter in Mexico who had been hospitalized for dehydration.
Not a good time for the Kvernsveen girls.

My stress levels were sky high, and when my guest said something that really made me mad, I flew into a
rage of hitherto unseen proportions. I generally have good control over my temper. And we have been friends
for 25 years, and are practically family. He has stayed with us for two weeks for the last twenty years. He is a
great person, bright as Hell and an amazing conversation partner. And I can usually listen to very opposing
views with a smile. But some of his views make me really, really mad. He does not think it should be illegal to
have sex with a 12 year old, or that rape is a "real crime", and he is very satisfied that in some states they are
now making it more complicated to vote, in order to prevent the minorities in general, and blacks especially
from voting. He wants Donald Trump for President, Sarah Palin for Vice President and thinks Obama is the
worst president ever, and that Norway is a socialist country. Never mind that we have a right wing
government. We are all socialist because we believe in good health care for everyone, and me trying to
explain the difference between a socialist and a social democrat fell on deaf ears. And he is incredibly bossy,
and has been bossing me around for the last 20 years, during which I have said nothing since he has been a
guest in my home. But I guess my days of allowing people to boss me around are over. What finally made
me blow all my fuses, was when he again, for the umpteenth time was shouting at me for not allowing my 15
year old to drink alcohol. There is an 18-year limit in Norway for serving alcohol to children. And every
research I have seen, indicates that the children who are served alcohol at home from an early age will drink
more, and have more damages from alcohol. We have alcoholism in the family, I have seen close up how
devastating that can be, and there is no way that I will take any chances with the health of my child. If people
have views on how I raise my children, I listen. They may pick up on something I have not seen. But not
allowing your 15- year old to drink does not exactly constitute child abuse. So between the fatigue, the
irritation, the stress, the jet lag and the worrying I lost it. Totally and completely.

I shouted back to him until I could hear my voice go three tones deeper in fury, I could feel the color of my
face turn red, then purple, and I banged my fist on the table like Nikita Krutchov in the UN with his shoe, only
without the shoe. My daughter, who usually diffuses any potential conflict with a joke, did not even dare to
speak to me. She had never seen me this mad before. In fact I had never seen me this mad before.

Then I got a new call to go to the hospital, and the next day the operation was on. And which language do
you think I spoke coming out of surgery? Correct. Russian. As I was slowly regaining consciousness I heard
as from afar myself speaking in Russian. And then thinking - still in Russian - :"I can't do this. Nobody will
understand me". And then someone answered me in Russian. What are the odds that in a operation hall in
Norway where there are four-five people present, someone will speak Russian? Probably not great. But by a
stroke of incredible luck, there was a Swedish nurse there whose mother was Russian so she answered me
back in Russian, and even claimed afterwards that I was fluent in Russian. Which of course had me
wondering whether she was just being kind, or whether I speak better Russian when I am not fully conscious,
just like some people claim to speak better French when they have drank alcohol. Anyhow when I started
regaining my consciousness, I switched language. To American English. I have no idea why that felt like a
good idea at the time, though I half think that I wanted a language more people would understand. And only
after a few minutes I was lucid enough to remember that a) I am a Norwegian, and b) I am in Norway.
Afterwards I was wondering how that linguistic chain of events came about, and I suppose the Russian part
came partly because I had just been 5 weeks in Russia, partly because I had been reading Agatha Christie in
Russian up until 15 minutes before I was put to sleep, and partly because Russian right now is my dominant
language. It is far from being a language I am fluent in, unfortunately, but it is the one language which right
now seeps into all my languages, and I sometimes say Да instead of yes, si or ja. And the American English
was probably due to the fact that I had been speaking American English with my American guest for the last
week. Over the last 6 weeks I had spoken very little Norwegian, so my brain was totally confused. Brains are
funny animals.

While recovering from the operation, I went into an Internet forum for people discussing Russian affairs. And
it felt like looking into the bottomless pits of Hell. It is filled with trolls from both sides, anti-Semits, white
supremacists and crackpots and the occasional normal person. Within 12 hours I was accused of being a
troll, crazy, of hating Russians, and that if I did not give them my deceased father's name and prisoner
number from the German concentration camp he was in, and details about a demonstration in Oslo 7 years
ago, which I did not attend, I was a nazi. And that I had no right to participate in the discussion if I had not
watched the debate between the American Republicans in the primaries. Don't look for a logic, there isn'n
any. And, yep. That's of course me. A troll, a nazi and a hater of all things Russian, as you all know. God

A Scottish girl rants about Zionist conspiracies, and a Russian engineer wants to see the people working at
the American embassies dealt with in an "Odessa style barbecue' aka burnt alive, will teach his children and
grandchildren to always hate the West and is willing to see ten million Russians die and the whole planet go
under as long as he gets the revenge he feels Russians deserve. He is one of the more rational people
there... It is incredibly scary, but it has opened my eyes a lot. I had no idea how much hatred there is for the
West,and that WW2, the conflict in Yugoslavia, and the crisis in Syria are all used to breed even more hatred.
Ukraine I knew of, obviously, but the rest I thought were too far away in time and space to matter. They are
not. Generally we are speaking full war between the West and Russia, and little to no attempts to have any
dialogue whatsoever. I have managed to get on friendly terms with two people who have different views from
me, though. A Ukrainian woman from the Russian part of Ukraine, and a Russian guy. They have both
realized that I am not a Russophobe in any sense of that word, and now that he has gotten most of his anger
over forked tongued Westerners off his chest, we have a surprisingly good exchange over Russian culture,
and he has even said in one of the threads that it is a pleasure to read my comments, and that I am a
reasonable voice. There is still hope for humanity.

Unfortunately there are also some people who seem to think the place is a dating opportunity, and I have
received mails from three guys who wanted to get to know me better. I didn't quite catch their drift in the
beginning, and with the first one, assuming he was just being very friendly, I answered in a friendly way. The
second one I did not even get to answer before I saw him calling Hilary Clinton a bitch and a skank, so I just
removed him quietly from my list of contacts. The third one, who in his first two e-mails is talking of my beauty
and his love, I am trying to come up with a firm but polite answer to. Really? Love? In your first e-mail? Give
me a break. He must really believe in the myth that blondes are more stupid than other people. I had no idea
how much craziness there was on Internet forums. I have only been on gardening forums and on this one,
who are all extremely civilized. This is - no. I really have no words to describe it.

To focus on brighter topics, I went to the hairdresser a few days ago, and instead of the old guy who used to
work there, I now met an Algerian woman called Sabia. And before I knew it we had spoken three different
languages together, swapped life stories, and cultural and linguistic points of interest, and she had given me
a huge hug, which she felt I needed after hearing one of my particularly harrowing stories about photographs.
I came back the next day, and she told me that she had thought about me all day, that I had saved her
marriage the day before, and then she gave me two more hugs. I guess she realized that she should
appreciate her husband more. Yesterday my daughter went there for a haircut, and she told me that Sabia
had said she had never met anyone else so full of joy as me. I can live with that. :-)

I also had an amazing day two days ago. There was an international meeting in Oslo, and I finally got to meet
the other of my two Russian colleagues, the one I had not seen since last year. I was very sorry not to see
them both, but like last time, I thought that I love them both so much that seeing just one of them, is already a
ten out of ten. We had a long lunch with lots of chatting, and I got Russian honey, a book on St. Petersburg
and a tiny instrument inside an animal to hang on your wall. I adore speaking to my Russian colleagues, they
are so friendly and knowledgable and with a great sense of humor. I am really sorry that I get to see them so
seldom. I wish I could have said that we spoke Russian all the time, but I am afraid I am not confident
enough. I forced myself to do one sentence, so he could see my progress. And we had a long and interesting
chat on veniki. I did not know that oak was even softer than birch, I will have to try that one out next time if I
get a chance.

In the evening there was an official dinner, that I had managed to get an invitation to. I probably should not
have gone, because I had still not recovered from the surgery, and between the lunch and the dinner I got a
12 hour day, but I had such a good time that it was worth it. I got to speak loads of Spanish, some English
and a tiny bit of Russian. I met a Spaniard I had not talked to before, who of course was very surprised to
hear me speak Spanish. My Andalusian accent never ceases to amaze them. Then I got lots of nice
compliments (I so wish Norwegians could learn to do that) and I ended up sitting next to my Spanish and
Portuguese colleagues, and close to all the Russian speakers (Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Moldova). Most
of them were new to me, but I knew my Spanish and Portuguese colleagues well, and we laughed and joked
and talked. I even doubled what I had taken in of alcohol so far this year, by drinking both white wine, red
wine and two glasses of the most exquisite muscatel wine for the dessert. The alcohol probably also
loosened the tongue of my two colleagues since my Spanish colleague did not stop complimenting me over
my looks, and when my Portuguese colleague introduced me to another colleague, he said: "This is Cristina,
she is in the EIM, she is the most talented of all the delegates there, and the most beautiful one." Of course,
the fact that I was the only delegate present, made that an easy compliment to make. :-) Even so I blushed.
Not half as much as I blushed an hour later when my very direct, and by that time a little tipsy Spanish
colleague suddenly asked my Portuguese colleague and my Russian colleague, who by that time had joined
us, whether they were circumcised. Now don't get me wrong. I have no problem with nudity in general, as you
all well know, after having read my tales from three different banyas, but that is just me, and it is not in a work
context. Listening to two of the men I respect the most, getting questions regarding parts of their anatomy
normally covered by a bathing suit, at the dinner table, is outside a Norwegian comfort zone. My Russian
colleague, who is fairly easy going, just laughed and reminded my Spanish colleague that they had been in a
banya together, so he should know. I have absolutely no idea what the initial reaction of my Portuguese
colleague was, because I was too embarrassed to look at him. He is the CEO of his company, and a
grandfather, who had just showed me pictures of his granddaughter. I could feel me ears burning, I was so
embarrassed on behalf of my Spanish colleague. Spaniards can be very direct. In principle I love that, but in
this case my inner Puritan appeared. Anyhow, we had a lovely evening, and it was great getting out for a
while, after basically having been in bed for two weeks.

My Moscow friend from the telephone shops texts me almost every day, and yesterday we had half an hour
telephone call. His English is just slightly better than my Russian, so we went back and forth between the two
languages, and helped each other out with words when we needed it. I also have a new live-in Russian. That
is, technically she is Ukrainian, but her mother is Russian, and her native language is Russian, which is good
enough for me :-) She and her boy friend have just broken up, and she needed a place to stay, so I invited
her to stay here. Helping a friend in need and getting some Russian practice at the same time, now that is
what I call a win-win situation :-)

I have just seen two positive news regarding Russia. One survey showed that Russians are on average the
best educated people in the world. I am not particularly surprised. I was considered nerdy for reading Anna
Karenina at 13. In Russia I have met people who read it at 5. The other piece of news was that St.
Petersburg has been voted best tourist destination in Europe in 2015. Again I am not particularly surprised.
St. Petersburg is a stunningly beautiful city, and although it has some pretty hefty competitors - London,
Paris, Rome - I think that the title is well deserved. And I am happy that no political stumble stones came in
the way. It shows me that Russia is not as unpopular as they may think.

And I have decided to give up on kissing Russians altogether. It becomes awkward every single time. And I
know you say, vonPeterhof, that instead of the tree traditional kisses, one kiss is fine, but that does not work
for me. Two kisses are a greeting, three kisses are a greeting, four kisses are a greeting. One kiss is a
caress. And since almost 100% of my Russian friends consist of girls, 25 year old boys or married men, that
simply does not do it for me. I do not do caresses with either of these groups. So I have decided to ignore the
fact that Russians usually kiss, and next time I will just fling my arms around them and give them a good
Norwegian bear hug instead. That is friendly without being intimate. And it cannot possibly get any more
awkward than it already is. Mark: Consider yourself warned.

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 Message 285 of 297
29 September 2015 at 6:31pm | IP Logged 
About the words for swimming, you confused кататься with купаться - the former means "to ride" with the implication of a leisurely outing rather than a trip to a particular destination. It never really occurred to me that плавать and купаться could have gender or age connotations, but now that you mention it I can see what you mean. After all, the former emphasizes movement and implies some physical exercise, while the latter emphasizes being submerged in water and implies a relaxing activity, automatically making it less "manly" than the former. However, soaking in a bathtub is always купаться and competitive swimming is плавать regardless of who's doing it.

It's a shame that the Baikal trip turned out to be disappointing in so many ways. Still, it's pretty much a given that you will make great acquaintances wherever you go and find the positives in any travelling experience. Personally I keep shaming myself for never having visited the Russia beyond the Urals, in spite of my family's connections to those regions. The tourist infrastructure over there definitely leaves much to be desired compared to Saint Petersburg, Moscow or the Kuban'.

Now I guess I can no longer claim not to know anyone who has met a Trump supporter in the flesh. My American friends and acquaintances span pretty much the entirety of the US political spectrum, so this forum was probably the last place where I expected to gain such a connection, yet here we are ;)

And on the topic of karaoke, visiting a karaoke place in the country that invented it was something I was really looking forward to and it really didn't disappoint. I had prepared hard by learning a whole bunch of Japanese karaoke standards, but it turned out to be unnecessary, since the good karaoke places have gigantic music collections with languages ranging from Taiwanese to Neapolitan, and with English songs ranging from classics like the Beatles and the Stones to stuff like Billy Joel's "Allentown" or Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman". Unfortunately I haven't managed to find any songs in Norwegian and the Russian songs are pretty much limited to t.A.T.u. The accommodations and equipment are also very good, with isolated rooms for small groups, various sound effects, the ability to switch the grading on and off and all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink deals. But then, as a seven hour session with nothing to subsist on but soft drinks has proven, the most important thing is good company, and I was lucky enough to run into one. I'll probably never be able to hear the words "Are you ready? I'm a lady!" without recalling a bunch of middle-aged Chinese men screaming them, but they'll probably have flashbacks to me doing the wails from Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", so we're even :D
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 Message 286 of 297
29 September 2015 at 6:48pm | IP Logged 
VonPeterhof: I hope it is not me you are referring to as a Trump-supporter :-) ?

And what is t.A.T.u?

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 29 September 2015 at 6:49pm

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 Message 287 of 297
29 September 2015 at 7:17pm | IP Logged 
Oh no, I was referring to your guest from the US! It's just that I've heard a few Americans say things like "Who the heck even supports Trump?! I don't know anyone who does! I've never even seen anyone who does! Heck, I don't even know anyone who has ever met a Trump supporter!" I guess I can no longer say the last bit honestly :)

And t.A.T.u. was a Russian pop duo whose popularity peaked some time in the early 2000s. They're probably the most internationally successful Russian pop act to date, and they had an especially large following in Japan. It's not hard to see why, since they were playing up a schoolgirl lesbian persona (an influential trope in modern Japanese popular fiction), back when this wouldn't have got you in trouble with the Russian law. This was their breakout hit.
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 Message 288 of 297
01 October 2015 at 2:26am | IP Logged 
Actually at the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies they made sure to honour Tchaikovsky and Tatu, to show that Russia doesn't violate LGBT rights. (if only) I'd even argue that Tatu have definitely contributed to popularizing the whole "non-traditional orientation" euphemism. BTW, they represented Russia at Eurovision 2003, and there were very few closeups because they were going to kiss on stage (I don't remember if they did :D) Similarly, Верка Сердючка has invoked homophobic insults. Yet the Conchita win had major anti-Russian sentiments about it. Europe is a strange place...

I hope you now see why politics are generally forbidden on HTLAL ;D I have no doubt that most people here are really awesome, but at least on Twitter I sometimes enjoy the 6WC updates much more than any real political opinions.

As for плавать/купаться, to some extent it's like есть/кушать. The former is more official, and what men should use about themselves, whereas the latter can be seen as more sweet and cozy and only women and children can use these about themselves (I'd say that in the sense "to shower", a man is supposed to say принять душ (or ванну), though that's not that strict). You can (or even should) also use these words about your guests, and in general they're normally fine in the second person. Maybe a bit awkward between two guys (who are not dating each other), although this probably depends on whether their masculinity is strong enough not to be threatened by their word choice :D

There has also been this thread about плавать/купаться :)

Edited by Serpent on 01 October 2015 at 2:29pm

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