Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

02 Jul 2001, 8:53 a.m.

Jacques Sirok (Jack, the Little Cheese)

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Did I ever write about sterile tears? They remind me of the problem of symptoms. I was about to take some sterile tears in my eyes the other days. Then I thought that dry eyes are just a symptom of dehydration and fatigue, and instead of using an enabler such as sterile tears (eye drops), I should fix the "underlying problem" and get some water and sleep. But then I thought that simply taking a nap and drinking some water would just "cover up" a lifestyle problem, and that maybe I need to change my work or study habits more fundamentally. It's layered. One person's "fundamental solution" is another's "Band-Aid."

It's time to quote Alexei's diary of June 30th.

"Tokyo has gone to ground. The heat has now past the point of being oppressive, moving directly into the "Military Dictatorship" phase, where it knocks on your door at three in the morning and demands to see your papers, then roughs you up when you show them. It's not even dry, nice heat, it's muggy, humid, mean heat. It's heat that's wandering around under cloudy skies, that seem to promise relieving rain, but never deliver until you're inside. Then, when you rush outside to cool off in the rain, it's stopped. When you DO manage to catch the rain it's either a torrential downpour or a superheated vapor. In all of this, I have managed to catch a cold. Don't ask me how."

Young Russian pairs. On the metro, I have now met two pairs of young Russians and tried to communicate with them. They have somewhat broken English, I have rather broken Russian, and still somehow we try. A week ago it was the Russian girls who assuerd met hat they love Limp Bizkit and Eminem. Yesterday it was the two young boys, Sasha and Zhenya, who saw me reading the Lara Croft special in Komsomolskaya Pravda. (It's not just Pravda anymore. Really. If you ask for Pravda at a kiosk, the clerk and everyone around you will look at you funny, as though you've been under a rock for the last ten years.)

I'm not quite sure what I've accomplished on these little missions of hope. I mean, sure, I'm an ambassador for my country wherever I go. I kind of have an obligation to try to interact with the young'uns, when they excitedly start conversations. But I also kind of want them to leave me alone to struggle with Pravda.

Oh, and there's a joke section in Pravda. I was able to understand the words of one joke, but the context escaped me -- the punchline turned on the hilarity of some celeb named "My-My" borrowing Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea from a library.

The "Open Your Windows!" Open-Air Rock Concert. I went to Kirov Stadium last night to see some Real Russian Rock. A person named Alexei kindly led me to the stadium from the metro station. He likes to play music of many sorts, and his brother is a computer-graphics artist and wishes to get into Hertzen University, where I'm studying for the summer. At the stadium, a nice young woman named Nastya got me into the show on her ticket, for free. She studies and lives in the town where Tchaikovsky was born.

I heard Chaif, Akvarium, and Aty-Baty. I understand a bit of the craze for Akvarium and Chaif now. They're pretty fun. Chaif did an impromptu (I think) bit from "La Bamba." Cute. It's been a while since I'd been to a rock concert. I felt the thump in my sternum, and felt the at-oneness with other music fans, and that was the type of thing that made me start thinking of St.-Pete as "my city" and resonated with some weird wish-to-be-Russian that I've been feeling. As in, "Gee, I wish I were Russian." Don't ask me.

I keep remembering parallel incidents back in India, the last time I was out of the country. Last night I remembered one time I really felt at one with my cousins and extended family in Bangalore. So help us, we were singing and dancing along to the Backstreet Boys. Jeremy Richards of Lyrics Schmirics called their harmonies "emotion-pimping," and, well, that's what they are. Oh, wait, it was "expectation-pimping." Anyway, N*Sync and the like sort of get past my defenses when I'm abroad and away from the good USA stuff. Russians -- and yes, this is a truism -- take the worst of American culture, as in Britney Spears and greed and neo-Victorian sexual junk. Next thing you know, I'll see pork rinds next to the Fanta and ads for monster-truck rallies at Kirov Stadium.

But I digress.

Rock music is pretty universal. At least, I felt as though Chaif could have been, minus lyrics, some random American (or British, or Canadian) band that I'd hear at Blake's in Berkeley, California. I heard nothing especially Russian about the harmonies or melodies. And I got a little sense of belonging there, in the crowd, cheering Chaif, that I hadn't felt before here.

Yay, police. On the way back from the concert, rather far away from me, I saw two (presumably drunk) people sort of fighting. Within a minute or two, some uniformed cops were on the scene, cooling stuff down. I was actually glad for the large militsia/police presence, for once.

Metro moments. I get lots and lots of eye contact on the metro. Russians stare -- that hasn't changed between 1975 and now (it was around than that Russian Journal was written). I'm not used to it. Probably when I get back to the US, that'll weird me out again, and I'll have to get used to the lack of eye contact. That and walking around without my passport and visa, and not locking my backpack when I get on BART, and ice cream costing more than 25 cents for a popsicle.

Yesterday night I saw a funny little scene, and laughed along with all around me. A man had fallen asleep on the shoulder of a woman he didn't know. She wasn't quite sure what to do. I mean, it's not nice to wake a sleeping person who is obviously very tired (and, one is pretty sure, not drunk -- he didn't smell of alcohol, and so on). It was pretty funny, even to her, and to the babushki and so on around. Eventually she got up really quickly when the train stopped at a station. The guy kind of straightened up, especially when some other guy on his other side sort of told him to wake up. The sleepy guy went back to sleep in some less bothersome-to-others position. Just another day in Leningrad.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at