Thursday, 22 May 2014
The Official Russian Arrival.
One of the things that strike a person traveling to a new country is the subtle differences. Humans have it programmed into their DNA to find patterns, it is one of the key reasons we survived and evolved while everything around us had much more dangerous set of genetic adaptations. No razor sharp talons, or thick hides for us. We got stereoscopic vision, and pattern recognition. So it is no surprise that when we land in a strange and potentially hostile environment we slip back into our old ways.
I don't want to give the impression that Russia was immediately a hostile feeling place. Quite the opposite actually it was very much relaxed. Too comfortable, in that way a highly competent MMA fighter sits relaxed drinking in an unfamiliar bar.
Getting off the plane in Russia is pretty much like getting off the plane in any other country I've traveled to. That uneasy feeling you've left something vitally important wedged into the seat cushion you occupied for ten hours mixed with the general dread of what's next and where do I go to find this what. So adopting the "look like you know what you're doing" posture I walked quickly toward this unknown. Faking a confident stride I didn't feel and speed I wished was half.
This is usually the time your pattern recognition starts to come to the forefront of your awareness. A picture showing two gender obvious block people, with undecipherable Russian Cyrillic under it I incorrectly think is a toilet. Finding instead an elevator I march in hoping another follows me and knows where to go as letting the mask of confidence slip is never an option.
Doomed and alone I look at the familiar control panel inside my new box canyon. The cave bear scratching alongside the familiar square buttons mock me. I jab one in the middle hedging my bets.
The doors open and the brightly lit corridor is adorned with an English sign, "Passport Control." I follow it confidently and praise my good luck, once again fumbling myself out a species ending event.
Arriving at the control point I see citizen lines but nothing for aliens so I veer right until I see one empty lane with a sign saying "Visitors." This is so much more welcoming than in other countries that let you know as soon as you arrive you have no claim to the soil you are about to walk on.
Inside the booth is a young women, affecting a bored demeanor she takes my passport without making eye contact, instead looking at me via the video display monitor that sits on her desk. She confirms my arrival into the country on another display terminal as a registration card is generated by the printer. All the while she stares at me on the first display screen. This is the point where the "too relaxed" feeling grabbed the lower regions previously numbed by ten hours of sitting on them. A quick, practiced rip and tuck and this paramount registration document is separated from the printer and placed inside my passport with a stamp. Closed she hands me the passport and the briefest of eye contact occur. I spring into a question I have been rehearsing for hours.
"Do I need to pick up an immigration form here at the airport?" Her response could have been a rear naked choke, delivered by the great Gracie himself in the style and ease this young woman demonstrated with her response. "No, no forms here, only stamps. Go now." Defeated and with the creeping feeling all was not as laid back as it seemed I went in search of my luggage.
Luggage carousels are always a source of frustration and jubilation at the same time. Yeah, my bag arrived and I won't have to wear this underwear a second day and risk creating a new mutant strain of bacteria. Followed by what the unknown people behind the curtain have broken, stolen, rummaged through? This Great Russian reveal was no different. My bags arrived looking as though they had survived some near apocalypse and I moved past the sheep standing in the way to wrestle the 35 kilograms off the moving catwalk. Wondering why, as I always do, people feel the need to pose readily to pounce on their bag like some jungle cat. The device moves slowly enough that a grandmother sporting a cane could retrieve a bag easily if you'd just get out of the way. The Lemming like gathering along the edge of the device and the spousal banter of; "Is that it?" "Did you pack the black one too?" providing a bit of comedic reliefs. I moved off thinking it had only been ten hours how the hell do these people recognize their own children after a week of summer camp.
Having passed Immigration and retrieved whatever remained in my suitcases I headed for Customs. Russia has two lines, Red and Green. Red is you have something to declare and Green is you don't. Not knowing what I was allowed to bring into the country and knowing I was under surveillance so sophisticated that it was invisible I stopped at a display that outlined the various stuff that had to be declared. I didn't really read any of it as I didn't want to know and with this knowledge demonstrate a tick or "tell" that this super sophisticated facial mapping software would flag and garner me added attention. Have stood in front of the display for what I thought was long enough I continued down the Green line.
Rounding a checkpoint corner brought me to two young ladies discussing nails or hair, or perhaps both from what the gestures they were making suggested. Once again they didn't really look up. Instead focusing, between banter, on the display screen. They pointed at me and then at an older looking x-ray machine. Neither moved or said anything. Just pointed for me to put my bags into the machine. I hefted my luggage into the ancient machine that no doubt contained MRI level scanning abilities concealed inside the antique. When this was complete I looked back at them and saw that they were once more engaged in a pretend conversation, this time it looked to be about shoes. Since I had obviously ‘lucked out" a second time in my all too short day I continued into the arrivals area.