The Land of Artifiial Smiles

Trip Start Jun 18, 2009
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Trip End Dec 31, 2009


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Where I stayed
Hotel Vladivostok

Flag of Russian Federation  , Far East Russia,
Sunday, June 21, 2009

Set on top of rolling hills was about all the charm Vladivostok had.  Another gloomy day with fog so dense that a view from the bay was impossible.  My tour guide showed me around the many war memorials and museums.  Nothing terribly exciting for my taste.   
However, what I did find strange an uneasy were all the people staring at me.  I would smile at them, trying to get them to smile back.  But with no such luck.  As we walked through train tracks and sidewalks, everyone seemed to give me a cold look.  It was something in their eyes.  I guess someone forgot to tell them that the Cold War is over. 
 
I spent the next day with a friend I met through Couchsurfing.com.  Her name was Maria Baranova and she was the sunshine I needed on another cloudy day in Vladi.  Witty, smart, funny, and cute she charmed her way into my heartstrings.   We talked for hours over cups of tea and California rolls. 
 
Finally, I had to ask her about Russian people and why they never smiled.  She told me that they prefer to keep to themselves and frankly they find it annoying if you smile at them.  Plus, they think it's an artificial smile.  I mean really?  Why would anyone smile at a stranger?  Besides, no one can be happy all the time, right?  Obviously they've never been to Disneyland.  But then again, with 8 months snow, I guess there really isn't much to smile about. 
 
We left it at that and I told her about my Trans-Siberian trip.  She simply laughed at me.
 
"So you want to spend 3 nights on a train with a bunch of drunk soldiers?  And don't you know the train is not very hygienic, and it also can be very dangerous.  You should hide all your money and be very careful," she said. 
 
Thanks Maria, up until then I was feeling great about trekking through the Trans-Sib.  Now, I was a bit unsure.  Oh well, what's done is done.
 
To be continued...
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