I only just realized that today is my last day in Russia. I had been avoiding thinking about it, because I was expecting the worst RE my Chinese visa. But here it is – a bit over 11 weeks after I flew into St. Petersburg and was overwhelmed with its beauty and history, I’m about 10,000 km east, on another ocean, in another lovely historical Russian city – though one less enchanting.
I just stopped at the little shop downstairs to buy a couple of final Russian beers. I’m proud to say that the whole exchange, though extremely basic, took place in full-sentence Russian. (“Two Sibirskaya Korona Klassica, please” “Klassic?” “Yes” “Two?” “Yes” “58 roubles, please” “Here ya go” “Um…” “Oh! Didn’t I give you two roubles?” ” “Ay! Here you go.” “Thank you, goodbye.” “Goodbye”)
My neurotic feelings about neurotic Russia have not changed. I’m very sad to leave – and already plotting my return – despite the disappointing (and needless) failures I’ve had in many of my attempts here.
This country has *so* much potential. It’s overwhelming. Forget oil & gas – this country possesses abundant and beautiful nature-al resources. Enough to keep eco-tourists, adventurers, culture addicts, and most anyone occupied (and spending money) for a long, long time. But Russia is squandering this natural resource.
And then there are the people. They are deeply cynical about politics. They are frustrated by bureaucracy that is so all-pervasive that they can’t even see most of it. They must choose which rules to follow and which to ignore, because it’s impossible to follow all the rules and still live a life. They are not cheerful, but they know a thousand jokes.
The Russian people that I’ve met are deeply thoughtful and engaged with the world around them. Some are very ill-informed and/or susceptible to conspiracy theories – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if the CIA was really behind 9-11, or if the Fed deliberately caused the current global economic crisis. But still, they are much more curious and “informed” than the typical American.
What they lack is optimism, a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It’s a noticeable characteristic of Americans. It’s the reason I think the US can climb out of the econ-crisis faster than most other countries. It’s the reason we Americans are willing to take risks – as entrepreneurs, as investors, as home-buyers. It’s the reason, I think, that I was able to divest myself of my New York life and hit the road, with only a small amount of trepidation. I believe that “Things are going to be OK.”
Optimism can change your life. It can change your country. It’s necessary for democracy. It’s what’s behind civic action and civil disobedience. It’s what got Barack Obama elected, and it’s in this speech he gave at a Russian civil society conference while he was in town.
If Russians, somehow, find some optimism….watch out. It could be the next China!
Meh, now I’m babbling, so I’ll stop. This is what you get when I can’t edit because my poor little HP is broke!
I’m going to pack. Then, if I can get back on the computer, I’ll write another post about Vladivostok, where the bus drivers all look like ex-Marines, smoke like chimneys, and have Barbie stickers on their speedometers. (I’m not kidding.)