Monday, June 30, 2008

A Midnight Train to Moscow...

By Ryan Chapman

Excitement filed the air the entire day as we prepared to go on our midnight, 8-hour train ride to Moscow, Russia’s capital. To the best of my knowledge, St. Petersburg has a population of 8 million, while Moscow houses 15 million, quite a large difference.

Talks of staying up all-night and partying on the train to Moscow left the group’s mind as soon as we entered our 20 square foot room shared by four people. While the midnight train wasn’t everything the group dreamed of, we made the best of it, shoving 12+ students into a room smaller than a jail cell, just riding and reminiscing on the good times we shared in our short time together.

(Lillie Steele, Ryan Chapman, Jason Duffy and Trisha Thibodaux)

Once we arrived in Moscow, we realized just really how humongous the city is. The underground metro had more train lines than colors I can see, although that is not saying much since I am color blind…

Now, I sit writing my blog on the second night on this three-day excursion and I want to bring everyone’s attention to a harsh reality of foreign travel. So far, I have spent 27 wonderful days in Russia, and each day my trust for the Russian people continues to grow as my guard over myself slowly slips away.

This morning, I went shopping for souvenirs with three friends at a Flea Market. They eventually grew tired and went to the room, while I continued to shop. After buying a snazzy Russian tracksuit, I walked by a shoe vendor, who let me try on some Pumas. He gave me a bag to put my tracksuit in as I tried on the shoes, but when he wanted 6000 Rubles (or $240), I tried to leave. He bargained a bit then told me he would go to the ATM with me, which didn’t sound to safe at all. I noticed his tone being more forceful as he grabbed my wrist the more I refused. I could since the situation getting more and more unfavorable, when 3 other vendors moved towards the one exit in the tent.

(Stan Mcclellan, Irina Mcclellan and Ryan Chapman)

I knew I had to act before things got even worse. I stood up and got my merchandise back from the vendor, while giving him his shoes. Once I had my stuff, I tried to walk away, but yet again the man grabbed my wrist, this time with more force. I spoke what Russian I had learned with a clear tone, saying I wasn’t looking for business, no matter how cool the Pumas looked!

Another step and another wrist grab, this time the most forceful, I had enough at this point. I felt alone, surrounded by Russians, and was able to only speak the basics of the language. Any hope of reaching my friends was gone also; they were back in the room by this point, so it was time to react. I broke the wrist grab using a neat technique I picked up from the 2-years of Taekwondo I took in high school, then pushed him back, while tripping him. Next I V-lined out of the place and jogged it out until I was in a more crowded area. All was safe.

I cannot stress the importance of never letting your guard down in a foreign place. I have and still do love Russia and all my time here, but as a foreigner, the one time you get into a comfort zone you let your guard down and become susceptible to pick pockets, overly assertive venders or things much worse.

Even after one negative experience, I would still recommend study abroad to everyone. There are hundreds of life changing experiences that overshadow the very few negatives I have encountered. I just want to give each reader a fair look at the good and the bad of my experience.

(All photos by Lillie Steele)

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