Monday, 14 July 2014

My Russian Cab Driver And Being A Tourist.

     Sometimes I think white people that have lived most of their lives in North America forget that other white people may have drastically different culture. I don't want this to sound racist, it is only a theory based of my own observations. Canadians may fare slightly better as we have Quebec and they have a distinctly different culture and one I am proud to have part of Canada.

For example, when we arrived in Anapa Russia one of our new bus friends gave us the number for a cab driver. He had a large enough car to accommodate all of our luggage.  It also turned out Vladimir spoke English. A very rare thing in the seaside resort of Anapa, Russia. Prior to moving to Anapa he had been a military pilot and explained in rusty but very articulate English that he had learned and later instructed English at a small island military base near Alaska.  In his prime, this man's dialect and intonation would have been perfect. His grasp of vocabulary and grammar was better than some English speaking Americans. When we arrived at our apartment, my wife Inga invited him up for a coffee and lunch. I thought this was very odd but just rolled with it.  He shared our meal and seemed to enjoy practicing English.

Later in the month we needed another ride out to the railway station to buy tickets for Ingas sister's girls and so we called Vladimir. He drove us out to the station and suggested we do some swimming at a local beach out near the station. I said yes. I find I am doing that a lot; agreeing and sometimes I even know what I am agreeing to. So one the way back Vladimir pulled into a long side road and parked. The girls, Vladimir, and myself went swimming for an hour on our driver's favourite beach. Then when we were done he invited us back to his house after quickly calling his wife. We accepted the invitation and found ourselves in a very nice little single home surrounded by a vegetable garden. Inside was spotless and nicely decorated home and we got the grand tour as Vladimir's wife got coffee, wine, caviar, and pancakes made with shaved zucchini ready. We shared a meal and learned and shared the names of different vegetables. It was an exceptionally pleasant afternoon that had me thinking about these cultural differences.

     When I was a child living in Cloverdale, all sorts of events used to take place at the fairgrounds. Living so close by we used to jump the back fence and sneak into most of them. One day we noticed large orange banners and strange music so a few buddies and me did what we always had done and jumped the fence for a look. This time was different; we were immediately captured by very tall, stern looking bearded men wearing turbans and swords! They told us to follow them with thick accents and very basic grasp of English. We followed them sure we were going to get reported to the police or worse. To our surprise and delight they brought us to a large outside area full of exotic smells. We were given plates and placed in a line. Following those in front of us we offered the plates to the ladies and they proceeded to heap large amounts of food and treats onto them. We were ushered to seats and shared a meal. I had never eaten anything like this in Canada and was surprised at how good it all tasted. After there were dances and swordplay and my friends and I enjoyed a new culture five hundred meters from my backyard.

Later when these new Canadians had issues in school or in social situations I found myself sympathetic to their plight. Not because I am an overly accepting person but because these people had showed me their cultural kindness. They had accepted my trespass for what it was, curiosity, and welcomed it and me with a meal. This simple act dictated how I interacted with Indo-Canadians for the rest of my life. Many are now proudly my friends and while sometimes their cultural differences make me pause and think it is thought with acceptance that asks could this difference make me better if I adopted it.

 I guess at the core of this is an explanation for why I would choose to leave the country many are risking everything to come to. I love Canada; I served in the military to protect her and would lay down my life for the values she represents. Is it perfect, or the best country? No, it is not. It could be better. It would do well to remember the things that built it and separated it from our neighbours. It was built by immigration and adopted the different cultures of those that made it. We should continue to do those things. Not all cultural differences should or could be adopted but surely we could grab a few of the good ones.

 Vladimir took us home, full, refreshed, and with treats from the garden. He told me the fare for the ride, the exact amount for a round trip to the railway station. We were new friends, and business is separate, as we all have to eat. I totally, culturally, got it.

       Yesterday we went to a place in Anapa called Gold Beach. It is attached to a development and
small cabin style accommodations. It is a private beach with a quasi all-inclusive setup. It is a exquisite place and it is very expensive. I don’t mean expensive from a local perspective but from a North American tourist perspective as well. So the question of value comes into play. I don’t mind spending big money for big service or exclusive treatment so did Gold Beach deliver? Yes and No.

The day was sweltering and busy. The local beaches were packed and as it was later in the morning getting a quiet place to sit, relax, and write was not going to happen. We have been living rather frugally as of late so I suggested we give this place a try. The price of admittance is only five hundred rubles per person, or a little over fifteen dollars Canadian. A reasonable price for privacy, comfortable lounge chairs, and open access to showers and toilets. It is also supposed to come with WiFi. It did have WiFi, but I couldn’t hookup to it from my phone or my laptop. The signal strength just wasn’t good enough on the beach area. It worked on the upper deck. Food is reasonably priced and superb, while drinks from the two bars are very expensive. I mean expensive from a North American standard. Don’t get me wrong; they are magnificent, prepared with exacting care and with the best of ingredients so from a value perspective I would still give it a plus.

Where I guess it fell down for me is from a customer service perspective. The bartenders were good, and very skilled but not at all friendly. They weren’t rude, but they were stereotypically Russian. While a stereotype, I had yet to experience this cold demeanor,. In my usual little “sea bar," Sergey my bartender and now facebook friend took exceptional care of me. He realized I couldn’t speak the language and took the time to be very clear and helped facilitate food orders and the like. To put a finer point on this, today is his day off. He is enjoying the day with his very beautiful girlfriend swimming in the Sea by the bar. He took a second, so quietly I almost didn’t notice, to hover near the bar while I
ordered my usual. He isn’t getting paid today, and to put it into perspective he probably doesn’t make half of what the bartenders at the Gold Beach make. Yet he took the time away from his girl to make sure I was ok. This is the other end of customer service and something I wouldn’t expect from a Canadian host at a resort, yet here it is.

So I guess the stereotypes prevail, and fail, depending on where one goes in Anapa. Strangely most North American tourists would go to Gold Beach and experience this while none would come to my little “no place special yet twice a beautiful” and experience the complete opposite.  Perhaps this is why the stereotype prevails? I hadn’t experienced it in two months of being in Russia. So I was a little shocked to find it in such an exclusive place as Gold Beach. Is it perhaps because Russians that go there expect their bar staff to be aloof? I have experienced this in exclusive clubs in Las Vegas. I treat my servers in The Foundation Room as old friends I haven’t seen in a few months and they treat me the same. Some of my friends, some American some Canadian prefer to be treated with a little more deference and as such they are. It is what they are comfortable with, and the style they prefer? Perhaps it is similar at Gold Beach?

I will be going again to Gold Beach with a very powerful and connected businessman from Anapa. I will compare the differences and post an update if required. I am not saying this place should be off your travel list if you come to Anapa.  Actually quite the contrary, it is a very nice beach with great surroundings and a kid friendly yet quite enough for adult's place. The lifeguards watch the swimmers, not their phones, and all is as advertised. The fancy inside restaurant looks quite awesome, with sea views and varied menu. It is Foundation Room Vegas expensive and written all in Russian so as a person that can’t speak the language I wasn’t comfortable ordering as you pay for things based on grams. In the example if a steak is 20 dollars per 100 grams then, you pay whatever the cut of beef that hits your plate weighs. By contrast, a Foundation Room menu breaks that down for you offering 10oz or 14oz option at fixed prices. When faced with a phone number level bill, this certainly adds a little comfort to your dining experience. In this place, I wasn’t sure if my bill would be less than the large amount of walking around money I had on me and Credit Cards are hit and miss as far as authorization goes in this country. All for my own protection; I have been assured by the companies that issued the cards although to date only my US issued card has been a problem. Global conspiracy theory implied. It has been said Banks not Tanks shape the future of nations now.

            I was asked the other day by my favourite bartender and new Facebook friend if my book was available in Russian. I think he reads quite well in Russian but so much is lost in translation. I remember my nephew Mike commenting on The Metamorphosis, a novella by Franz Kafka, and my partner at the time reflecting that it lost a great deal in the translation from German. Now I most certainly am not comparing my work to Kafka and I don’t think Grey Redemption would be a hard translation as the concepts are very simple, but I think the size is a stumbling block.

        I have many fans and readers in Russia no doubt because it is not a hurrah for America we win novel. Not that this was meant as a slight on America. But friends and family you can’t win all the time and I am getting a little bored with the expectation that you do. So to my readers and fans in Russia I will tell you the same thing I told my friend Sergey. “If it is meant to be it will happen."

It is a good idea for all writers to adopt this kind of thinking. I write to entertain, but in reality I write to get the stories out of my head. I commented the other day on Facebook that I saw someone reading Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon in Anapa Russia the other day. It was a translated copy. I hated and loved this book as a teen and I told Rick this once as we had breakfast together. It was his departure from one genre, and one I loved to a new one and one he has become more famous for writing. Great for Rick and bad for Scott. However he recently finished The Five that once again proved his horror writing days are not over.

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