Friday, October 26, 2012

Flying into the City of Angels - Coming Home

From New York, I took a flight back to Los Angeles (also known as the City of Angels) via Washington D.C.  I was grateful that there was 0 wait time at the D.C. Airport.  I got off a plane and onto another one.

I sat the aisle seat.  In the middle seat was a Korean or Chinese chubby guy who didn't like to talk.  He was kind of scary, in that Korean Virginia Tech killer kind of way.  I probed him for answers, and he also said he was from Virginia Tech.  On the aisle, was a empty nester woman who was visiting her college child in DC.  I told her I went to Russia, and she asked how it was.  I said, "Good."

But in my mind, I thought of all the good times and bad times in Russia.  I never told my readers why I chose Russia.  The idea of the trip was prompted when I witnessed the dead come back to life.  Yes, read that again.  I am witness to the fact that God can raise the dead because I've seen it.  If you have a hard time believing what I saw, I sympathize.  I, too, had a difficult time accepting this fact, but I saw it.  Even after seeing this, I had to remind myself over and over again that when I came to faith in Christ that I believed that God could raise the dead.  Now that I witnessed it myself, I had to accept the truth that God could do this in present time.  Yes, I know it sounds insane, but others too have been witnessed that God raised the dead life I speak of in Los Angeles, where I was returning.  

The dead one, come back to life, prompted me to go to Siberia in search of the Elixir of Life.  Had I found it?  I don't know.  Was the mission successful?  In part and a failure in part.

I looked outside the plane window, and I saw the hues of stratified colors that went from blue to green to orange to yellow and to red.  The green sky was phantasmic.  I'm not a fan of using big words but this one is apt because I can't describe the color.  It was eerie, mysterious, and beautiful all in one.  It was phantasmic.  Looking out of the window, I thought of getting placed under Russian house arrest.

Most of all, I remembered the people I met and the stories I shared and the stories I collected.  When I spoke to Artemii in St. Petersburg, I remember telling myself that next time I travel, I'm in search for the most beautiful story.  Where will I find it?  I reflected on learning about Siberian magick and mysticism.  How could I forget also, all the spirits that visited me and talked with me?  Was that real too?

I also knew I found my soul.  People ask me what that means.  My journey was a mystical one.  What does mysticism mean?  The word Mystic, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means union with God.  I didn't really want to go to Siberia.  I remember telling my mentor, I'd rather not go.  But I realized, to increase our faith, our wisdom, our hope, and our love, we must go to places we are afraid of going to.

So back to the Dead.  The Dead prompted me to go.  Now when the dead, raised back to life, tells you go somewhere, it's best you drop everything you do and just go.  So, I went.  I suppose the heroes of ancient times needed to make their way into Hell and come back out.  Why?

So - they could go to places that the living are afraid to speak of.  So - they could know that they've done it before so they could do it again.  So - like Achilles, they gain invincibility.  But for me, I went because my God, in the form of man, went to Hell before to overcome death.  I followed in those footsteps and stepped into the world where the living and the dead meet.  When I came back, I did gain sacred and secret knowledge that showed me the art of creation.  In that, I suppose I found something beautiful and artistic in my soul.  I guess finding my soul meant I learned who I was better, who my God was better, and the mysteries of creation.  I also inched closer in understanding my role in this world, and somewhere in the intersection of all that, is what my mystical journey was about.

The funny thing is  while I was on the journey, I kept questioning why I was on it.  I didn't enjoy it much, and I was continually tired.  I mumbled to myself, all throughout the journey - NO MORE EXPEDITIONS.  That's it!!!  Once I get home, I'm staying home.  No more crazy journeys where the dead make you go somewhere, where you're trying to looking for magick.  Just no more!  I'd rather be sitting at home with my mystery pet, my duck, my chicken, and my aquarium fish, eating food my mom and I make together.

Yet, as I stared outside the window, I could see the sun setting, causing the light to flare all kinds of colors.  We were flying West, West back home.  We were chasing the sunset, and so, that was the longest sunset I've ever seen in my life.  I saw a five hour sunset. 

Staring outside the window, I thought to myself, maybe I could go on another treasure hunt.  A small smile came across my face.  I even know what I need to look for, but that's another story for another time.  Yes - that too - starts with some supernatural forces that seized my attention one day while I was at home reading a book.

One of the last thoughts I had was this: damn, you traveled a long distance.  Here's the breakdown:

I traveled a stunning 34,245 kms (21,043 miles).  To give you a reference point, the circumference of our planet earth is 24, 901 miles.  So one more 4 hour flight would've completed a circuit around the world!

I took 11 flights.  I took 3 train rides, totaling 66 hours!  I took 2 ferry rides across a lake.  I took 2 long bus rides (12 hours in total).  I traveled for forty days  In that time, I paid for only 6 nights of my travel.  I met 12 Russians.

After all my thinking and reflecting my flight landed.  I took the bus to the Los Angeles Union Train Station.  There, I took a bus to the El Monte bus station.  My mother picked me up in the old Mercedes-Benz.  1989 to be exact. 

I came home at 11pm.  She asked me to see my duckling, but it wasn't a duckling anymore.  Even though it was only 40 days, the thing had grown huge and was the size of a cat.  The chicken was the same size.  My mystery pet was sleeping, and it looked like I lost an aquarium fish or two.

My mother and I chatted about my adventures, though I omitted the fact that the Russians captured me.  (I told her about it a few days later.  When she heard it, she asked if it was because I slept with a Russian prostitute and refused to pay.  I just laughed and said why would you think such a thing.)  Even though I was tired at 11pm because of the hours of traveling on a plane, telling her about what happened gave me the energy to stay up even later.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From Munich to Barcelona

I don't think I experienced love at first sight with a city until I met Barcelona.  Remember, on this journey I started in Siberia.  As the days passed by, and fall was changing into winter, you could literally feel the temperature drop in Russia.  When I left St. Petersburg, it was cold and getting colder.  The winter was coming.

It got warmer in Bavaria, and it was back to a nice, warm, and mild climate back in Barcelona.  I met a Turkish girl in Barcelona.  She had a look of a dark haired and black eyed gypsy, and I met her in the hostel.  She was looking to tour the city, and I said if she waited 10 minutes while I drank my tea I would go with her.  She waited.

I followed her at first around the city to see what she wanted to see.  We got lost at some ally and there, we drank sangria (fruit punch and wine) with tapas (Spanish side dishes).  They were so yummy, and we both agreed they tasted delicious.  Sitting down at the cafe, she told me about herself.  She was a freelance advertiser, who had a passion to fight the LGBT harassment in the Balkins.  I told her my mentor also worked on the issue.

We made each other laugh.  I told her how I liked Bavarians.  And she would say, "Agh!  They have icy hearts and icy eyes.  I look people with fire and passion inside.  The hot people."  I thought over her words.  She was right, to some degree.  I guess Germans were colder, but that wasn't my experience. 

But after we drank our sangria and ate our tapas, I realized we were lost.  I took the map from her and re-oriented ourselves like migratory, homing animals.  When we were re-directed, I told her, "I need you to remember one lesson."

She said, "What's that?"

"That the man is the best leader.  So - follow the man."

She rolled her eyes and said, "COME ON!  You chauvinist pig."

I just chuckled, knowing that the comment would irk her because she was pro-feminist and independent.  But even though she hated me uttering these words, she still followed me.  And we toured the city and saw the churches; we the people come and go.  We saw the world relax in Barcelona and not have a care in the world.  We went into the shops in the allies, drank coffee, and ate gelato. 

We sat on the bench and watched the people.  We asked each other who we thought was attractive, but somehow the conversation strangely ended up about sex.  I don't know how.  She was telling me how her boyfriend knew how to have trantric sex for hours.  I asked her how is this possible, but she said she didn't know and that it was really, really boring.  And with that, we both laughed again.

As we walked the paved streets of Barcelona, I kept telling her I could live here.  At one point, I asked her one of my "what-if-intellectual-hypothetical-nonsensical" questions.  I said, "Do you think a person could discover how to live forever and break the natural laws of God?"

She said, "Oh dear God."  She drew an Orthodox cross across her body, by pointing her fingers to one shoulder, then the next, the forehead.  She then said, "Don't say such things."

"But why not?  I would like to figure out how to defy the laws of nature."

And she said, "And then what?  You would be bored by yourself forever."

"Well - then I would have to have my family and my pets live forever too."

"Oh God!!!"  She said.  "Don't make me draw another cross.  You talk of crazy things.  And your family and pets will hate you!"

So we stopped the conversation.  At one point we walked by a Convalescent Home that had a large glass wall.  I walked and looked in and an old, frail lady started walking towards me.  She blew me a kiss.  The Turkish girl said, "What are you doing?"

"Come and look," I said.

"What?!  What are you doing? This is so sad."

"Yes, but she needs human warmth too."

"But this is so sad seeing her.  I just want to cry."

"Well, say goodbye then.  Blow a kiss."  And the girl did.

After our walking tour of the city was over, I told her, "Don't forget your lesson today: follow the man."

She replied, "I'm going to punch you."  I smiled in response.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Russian BBQ With Bavarian Swans

I've been in Munich for four nights and five days.  The irony of being in Munich was that my hosts, at least this time around, were not Bavarians but Russians.  I stayed with a 60 year old mother and her Russian son of 23.

I think they provided me with one of the strangest travel experiences I ever had.  On one of the days, I made them Korean BBQ.  These Russians never ate Korean BBQ before; so, for them, it was an exotic experience of the Far East.  And I'd like to brag, anyone who has eaten our family BBQ, has said it's to die for.  So for these Russians, they sad they loved it.

In turn, they wanted to repay me back for my bbq with their own.  The Russians have a bbq called "Shashlich," pronounced "Sh-ash-lik."  The Russian mother marinated the meat in a mustard and onion sauce.  A few days before, when we mushroom hunting in the forest, we gathered fire wood.  We would need it for the Russian Shashlich.

So, at around 8pm, when the light had set, the Russian mother, son, and I carried the firewood, grill, and the meat.  We took the underground to a Bavarian river.  It was rather dark, except for the stars and moon.  But what caught my attention immediately, was the ballet of white swans that were sitting on the bank of the river.    Accompanying them was a gaggle of geese and a badling of ducks.  The ducks made me think of my duckling back home, but I realize with all the time I have been gone it may no longer be a duckling.

We set up the portable grill and started the fire by adding in the firewood and charcoal.  The Russian mother began by stringing the skewer with a piece of meat, a piece of tomato, a piece of bell pepper, and then repeating the sequence.

After the fire began, the water fowls saw it and jumped into the water.  There was, however, one brave duck that kept coming towards us, asking for food but still weary we might try to harass it.  I tried on several attempts to lunge for it, only to be foiled by it.  It again made me think of my pet duck back home.

We waited for the fire to die down and then placed the skewers on top of the grill.  I think the meat was of pork.  I remember because I was worried that if I ate it too raw I might get parasites.  Nonetheless, I probably ate the meat at a medium-rare and appreciated the perfect texture of the meat.  The taste of mustard and spices also came through.  It made me think though, as good as the meat was, that something was missing in this Shashlich.  I believe that some citrus and more sweetness could have balanced the flavor a little better.

There we were.  The only people on this Munich River in the middle of the night, eating bbq.  Our only company were the swans, duck, and geese.  It just felt strange to be the only ones there, but the air was getting colder and hence it brought a clear message: the winter was coming.

The mother said, "I think this is the last time we will have Shashlich this year.  My son will be going to Hamburg soon."

I just nodded.  While pulling pieces of meat off the skewer with my teeth, I told them about my journey through Russia and the places I wanted to see if I went back.  I wonder if I should go back a lot with everything I went through.  Hmmmm. . . .  They told me about the different ethnic groups in Russia, but most of what they said about these ethnicities is better left unsaid.

And that was how we had a bbq with the swans.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Beautiful Russians - Ugly Russia

Although my previous posts talked about the horrors and abuses of the Russian government against me while under Russian house arrest, the rest of the time was full of pleasure and wonder.  I wrote my previous posts with a sense of doom, misery, and ugliness.  This was done because that is exactly how my problems with the situation felt and looked.

Yet, John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, once said that, "I cannot praise a fugitive or a cloistered virtue."  In modern English, (because Milton always wanted to sound smarter than others, but he must realize this has now gone out of fashion) it translates that virtue can only be displayed in an environment of adversity.  For instance, generosity only exists when the generous feels the pinch of giving.  Or take another example.  As my clinical law professor said, "Anyone can be honest when it's not harmful."  You see my point.

Now, I want to define that this is not my story of virtue.  My bleak situation really just set the dark stage for the Russians of St. Petersburg to perform. And on it, I saw the beauty and virtue of the Russian people shine.

I was helpless and alone, literally and figuratively.  I couldn't speak Russian.  I didn't have enough money to hire a Russian-English translator.  Yet, when my host Sasha found out what happened to me, he knew I was sad and becoming depressed.  He only said, "No worry.  Saint Petersburg good place to be."

Sasha would also take off almost two days of work to help me manage the Russian bureaucratic office.  When Sasha wasn't there, he asked another coworker to be my translator.  This coworker would also miss work.

In my depression, I told myself: "Ok, you really need to make the best of this situation.  Can't you just pretend that this whole affair was really just a visa extension."  And in some ways, my overstay was just an extended tour to Russia.  I then said, "Why don't you try to meet some locals and be happy in Saint Petersburg?"

I used social networking sites and found some locals.  The one that left the deepest impression on me was an Artemii.  When I had explained that I had caused so much stress to Sasha, I politely asked if he would take me in like a stray animal.  He phoned his girlfriend, and she agreed.  He had only met me for two hours but understood he had a role in getting me out of Russia.

At his girlfriend's house, they heard my story and apologized to me about how ugly Russia had treated me.  They bought me Vodka, and we relaxed the night away with Russian Table Water until 3-4am.  The tonics of Russia.  The laughter and company, and me laughing at my own situation, had brought comfort to us all.

I spent my remaining days in Saints Petersburg with Artemii.  I decided to teach him the mechanics of the English language and the tools of English Literature.  He was an apt pupil.  I met others from the city and enjoyed biers with them.  In some ways - I kind of didn't want to leave Saint Petersburg anymore.  

This feeling was especially true when Artemii's father sent the message that he wanted to meet me in their cabin in the country side.  His father didn't ever meet me, but the Russian hospitality I was experiencing moved my spirit.

On one of my final days in Saint Petersburg, Sasha asked me about how my day at court was.  I explained to him that it was just a show trial.  That all these Russian officials played with me like a toy, and then paraded their power against me.  I was the helpless American, and they were the big, strong ugly Russians.  I said I was the circus act.  It was like being put in a pink dress and paraded around for everyone to laugh at me.

When Sasha heard this appalling story (which it was really nothing short of), I saw Sasha's eyes become redder and watery.  He was holding back the tears.  He only said in his wisdom, "Maybe - one day you judge.  You argued in court.  You done prosecute.  You done defense.  Now you are defendant.  It's good to learn all the roles of court.  Expensive, but good."

I said, "Yes, Sasha.  Expensive, but good.  I needed to learn."  He was right.

When I finally received my transit visa, those I've been in contact with me also celebrated.  They - too - were relieved.  

On my last night at St. Petersburg, it was time to part with Artemis.  I decided to give him a hug because that's what was called for.  His last words to me were, "I hope you come back.  I hope you miss me.  I hope you miss Russia."

I said, "I've never been to a country that I loved so much and hated so much.  I never met more beautiful people and such ugly, ugly people.  But I should come back because Russia is ugly, but Russians are beautiful."

Before ending this post, I will show this point.  I was asked over and over why my consulate didn't help me.  I really don't know why.  But when I finally called, after it had ended, they were apparently appalled at how my story finally unfolded and told me this never happened to an American in St. Petersburg before.  Yes, my American Consulate was completely useless.  In the end, it was the Russian people, and not even my own embassy, who saw to it that I needed to go home.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Flee Russia - Free Bavaria

So what exactly happened with Russia?  I paid there heavy fine.  And I returned back to the Russian Blue Room.

In the Blue Room, the officials there finally spoke to me in English.  Earlier, they pretended to know no English, but now they spoke to me in English.  They always said I needed a translator, but this was not true.  They could have translated, but earlier, they had done everything to make my life as painful as possible.  Even the demonic lady had become a tad nicer and stopped barking at me and showed more human emotion.

But of course this was the case.  Like parasites on hot blood, they fed on me, and all of God's creatures are satisfied when they are fed.  But in some time, they'll be hungry again.

My transit visa was on government green paper.  It had a black and white photo of me, and it looked like it was typed on a typewriter.  It was a small pamphlet that did not attach to my passport.  It looked so old and so Soviet.  I had bought my freedom back.

I experienced two surprises at the airport.  First, the Rossiaya Airline representative that had saw the whole scene I made at the airport served me again.  She pretended that she never met me before, even though she was fully aware that I had caused an uprising of 13 police officers to drag me out of the airport.  She only said uttered one sentence to me (and pretended I didn't exist): "Aisle or Window?"

I said, "Aisle."

I thought, jeez, couldn't you have been more friendlier.  Yet, when I actually sat myself on the airplane, I was pleasantally surprised.  She gave me the best seat on the airplane.  How ironic I thought?  She watched my dignity stripped away last week, and now she was trying to compensate me.  I didn't know how to feel.  Should I laugh or be upset?  Was this some joke?  At the end of contemplating what happened, a small smile washed over my face.

The second surprise was that as I was boarding the airplane, I caught one of the guard's attention.  He looked at me with shock and his eyes said everything: "It's You!  The boy who caused all the trouble last week."  I nodded to acknowledge it was, indeed me, the same person.  And he realized, I was finally free of Russia.  Now, a large grin washed over his face.  I nodded again to thank him and tell him - yes, I was leaving Russia.  Russia returned its freedom back to me.

I didn't know how to feel about how happy these people were now, the airport people, the airline worker, the guards, or the Blue Room Officials.  Were they happy that my rebellious American will had been broken in - like Pavlov's Dog?  Or was it that they were sincerely happy that I was finally granted my wish to leave Russia?  I don't know.  Anyone who lives in Russia will tell you that it is a country that seems to thrive on interweaving incompatible contradictions.

When I made it to Munich, I had to decide where to stay.  I could stay with my Bavarian little brother or some strangers, who invited me to their home.  When these strangers heard my story about my struggle to leave Russia, one of them asked me if there was anything they could do to help?

Because of their kindness, I knew I had to meet these people.  He was also a Russian and lived with his mother.  He didn't answer my phone calls or emails but told me to come.  So, I managed to make my way through the Munich subways and locate his apartment.  I range the doorbell and when they saw me the Russian mother and son said, "Paul?!"

I said, "Yes.  I've been trying to call, but no one's picked up."

The son said, "I was sleeping.  I'm sorry.  But this is absolutely amazing you found us and came.  Please come in."

His mother made me an amazing, rich and hearty soup.  She made two more courses, and they heard my Russian story.  Both of them said, "That's Russia.  Welcome to Russia."

But then, they told me their stories of Russia.  I wish I could say they were telling me a story, but really, it was more like a song, a song of suffering and survival.  These two were rebuilding their lives in Germany, and I know how hard it is to rebuild one's life in another country.  I, myself, had to do this twice.  This happened when I immigrated to New Zealand, and when I immigrated back to America.  So - I knew.

As they sang their song of suffering and survival, I felt so humbled that I made such a big deal about my own experience with the Russian government.  I don't want to get into it because the song was so intimate, but I can say that what they told me went outside of my scope of imagination.  There is an agony that can penetrate deep into a man's bones and crush his spirit, robbing him of life.  I heard this song and nearly wept, and they said, "But no matter, it's not something to talk about much."

Late into the evening, the mother, son, and I rode bikes into a nearby forest.  In it, there was a stone ping pong table.  The mother and son played ping pong and laughed and showed a spirit of life.  And somehow - the whole scene nearly made me weep.  How do people manage to find life in their own misery?  I asked them both, "What is the secret of living through such pain?"

They both answered me, "You need to live for love.  And you must live.  There is no other option."  I just didn't know how to respond.  I mean what could I say.  I just felt like a grain of sand amongst such giants.  So - I just stayed silent.

Finally - they asked me what I was doing in Siberia.  I talked a little about my story about searching for the Elixir of Life.  I explained I failed, but had a found another precious item: the Rose of Resurrection.  She asked to see it.  I went through my suitcase, rummaged through it, and pulled it out to shower her.

She looked at it and smelled.  "Yes," she said, "this is the Rose.  But I don't think you understand.  The Rose of Resurrection and the Essence of Immortality are fraternal twins of each other.  They don't look alike, but they do exactly the same thing.  You can make your Elixir."

I said, "Really?"

"Yes.  I know this.  We grew up at the Ural Mountains.  My family knows all about this stuff.  You can make your Elixir if you chose."

I researched it, and what she said was true.  A small smile and a sense of accomplishment came over me.  I thought my expedition was a failure, but really: I succeeded.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Russian Blue Room

I was sitting in a hallway full of people with Sasha.  The hallway was painted a bright sky blue, and it was a kind of color no one in their right mind would ever pick for their own home.  Thу hallway was also narrow, and an obese American would have a hard time passing through it.  The lights were also those annoying, bright white lights that hospitals use, but in this room the effect was much worse.  Some of the tubes were not working and some were; so, it created a pattern of uneven bright lighting.  All of this had an effect of breaking down your soul.

I was here because I needed to get my exit papers out of Russia.  Sitting in that hallway with Sasha, I couldn't help but wonder if George Orwell sat here before.  Of course he didn't, but for some reason, I believed that I was following in his footsteps.  The whole scenario reminded me of 1984.

Sasha cut in front of the line to get my papers.  We entered the office, and it had better lighting than outside of the uneven patterened one outside.  We had to wait.  The officer was at her long, lunch break.  How many lunch breaks do these people have?

A red haired lady in her 20's gave us some papers and what we needed.  The woman we cut in front of opened the office door and started screaming at us in Russian.  Sasha ignored her, as did the officers.  Sasha took the papers and said "Office.  Office."

There must have been 15 people standing outside.  One lady was on her lunch break.  Therefore, there was only one person helping clients.

I never really understood what the word bureacratic meant until my experience with the Russian Internal Affairs Department.  I think it helps too that I have a better understanding of law and policy.  What bureacratic really means is that the government will show you will no longer be treated with respect.

It took 50 minutes to get to Sasha's office.  For the first time, he seemed stressed and he said, "I need to work.  Work."  He meant I was taking a lot of his precious time away for this visa problem, and I felt horrible, terrible, shameful, and helpless.  The last of these handicaps ate away at me.

We filled out the paper work, but there was one thing still missing.  A new ticket to Munich.  I called the Russian Airlines, who said they could not change the ticket date over the internet or the phone.  I thought - What is this?!  Is this the 1980's?!  Thus, I had to walk to the ticketing office at the center of the city.

The ticketing office also made us wait a long time.  Even though it was 6pm in the evening, there were again many people waiting to buy or change tickets.  There were about 10 agents working.  But it made you think - why didn't they just offer more e-services?  I know why.  People would lose their jobs and for some reason, Russia doesn't feel disadvantaged keeping up with the west.  After about an hour (something that should only take 5 minutes by phone), this is not including my time to get to the ticketing office, I had a new flight ticket.

I went back to the 1984-Office.  I asked anyone waiting in line: "English?"  A kind lady responded and said she would help me.  We entered the office sanctuary again, and I handed them my papers.  A red haired lady - who had hate in her eyes - said, "No!  Where's his host?"  She was asking where's Sasha.  Sasha had to work I explained.  Can't they accept these papers?

She said, "No sponsor with you.  No papers."

The kind lady said, "I'm his sponsor."

So they took the papers.  Then the demon lady chatted with someone in the back office (the secret room) and explained the situation.  They threw the papers back at me and said, "Your man friend not here.  No accept papers."

I hugged the kind lady.  That must have made her feel good because she would know that she helped out a helpless stranger in the blue room.  She confided in me that even though Russian people don't know how to manage the blue room so well.

Now - I keep getting asked why not call the embassy?  Why not call the consulate?  I called the consulate.  Matthew said he would try to talk to the demon lady, but when I handed her the phone, she screamed at me to get out of the sanctuary.  I said, "Please.  It's my US Embassy."  She said get out again, and Matthew said you better leave and not make them angrier.  They could make your life even worse.  So - I left.

I called Sasha and explained the situation.  I felt so ashamed again that I had to pull him away from work again.  But in two hours he came, and the demon lady finally accepted my papers.

I know it's a bit degrading to call her a demon lady, but I'm not sure what happens to the human part of these government workers.  I explained this phenemenon to other Russian citizens, who also confirmed - you become more evil if you work for the government.  I don't know exactly how, but I think they become brain washed.

I was led with Sasha to the basement.  It had the same kind of lovely decor of the blue wall and bright lighting.  Now, I really felt like I was in some kind of Virtual Hell.  There was one desk and a tall Russian at 6' 6" would come out stating your name officially by throwing open a door they worked from.

We waited for an hour.  They were processing my application and Stas, the tall Russian came out and said I would have to come back because it was lunch time again.  Sasha looked stressed because he had to work; so, he found another translator from my work.  Valentine, my other translator, said it would take him an hour to get to the office.

Valentine, through no fault of his own, took longer.  When Stas saw us, he said you're late.  I just looked at him with sad eyes; how could I explain that I had to get a new translator who took awhile to get here?  Valentine said we're lucky because they could have cancelled our appointment and made us come again tomorrow instead of proceeding.

But Stas proceeded with what he kept repeating as "protocol."  When it was lunch time that was "protocol."  When we had to come back - that was protocol.  When Sasha had to be with me to hand in papers - that was protocol.  Everything was just protocol.

Stas sat behind the desk.  The desk was located at the dimmest part of the room.  It was there he dictated to me my confession.  I wrote it out in English; my translator wrote it out in Russian.  I was signing a paper that said I was guilty.  There was a terrible effect in my soul that was breaking my spirit by writing out this confession, and I could not bear it.  So, in English - I slipped in one sentence: "I never intended to break the law and was not under the impression I did."  It was my only defense for me to feel like I was not being completely stripped away of what I knew to be true.

I was not entitled to a lawyer because it was only an adminstrative rule that was broken and not a criminal one.  I was told if I did not sign this paper they would arrest me, and although I would have welcomed this earlier, we were already so far into this process I did not want to stay in Russia any longer.

I was fingerprinted in some old Soviet style.  Stas said it's an old way but still works.  He smeared sticky ink and then printed each of my fingers.  This is for overstaying.  I said, "I feel like a criminal."  My translator said, "You are a criminal now."

Stas knew what we were talking about and said in Russian, "Well, what would happen to me if I overstayed in America?"

And I said, "They would deport you.  And I want this."

Stas didn't like the answer.  Soon - I would be going to court.

I didn't go back to Sasha's place that night.  I don't really know how, but I found a few students (all of which come from good families) to let me stay in their place tonight.  I had too much shame and too much guilt for making Sasha walk with me through this kind of hell.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Touring a Russian Court

I toured a Russian court in a way no one ever should.  I was being tried.

Although Russia does not want me in its country, it also doesn't want me to leave.  This paradox for days could not be resolved by me.  Now, it can.  Everything is about extracting every last cent out of me.

At the Russian State Department, I was not allowed to submit my paper work unless my host was there.  I couldn't understand this.  I found a woman who spoke fluent English, and she said would be my host.  They accepted my paperwork, but somehow they discovered she was not my host.  They threw the papers back to me.

So - I had to call my host.  I felt so ashamed again to pull him away from his work.  I called my Embassy, who tried to talk to the Russian State Department agent.  She just screamed at me and told me she would not speak to my agency.

I hugged the woman who tried to help me.  She was an angel, unlike the state department agent.  Eventually my host came.  They accepted my paperwork, but had more procedures for me to go through.  They led us to the basement, which reminded me of 1984.

The walls were cracking in paint.  There were a few, bright white fluorescent lights.  You already felt like a criminal.  After waiting an hour, they said, "Time to leave.  Lunch break."  My host called another friend to help me out.

When we returned, we waited long hours again and they really did treat me like a criminal this time.  I said outloud, "I feel like a criminal."  My friend said, "You technically are one."

They rolled my fingers in ink.  They were wet and sticky.  They rolled all of my prints on a paper.  They then made me sign a paper that said, "I knew I had the right to remain silent, but I had waived my right."

I asked my agent, "What if I don't sign this?"

He said, "We'll throw you in prison."

I said, "Ok."  So, I signed it.  Remember, this is all for overstaying on my visa, while being told that I wasn't overstaying.

Then he made me fill out a confession.  He dictated the confession to me word for word, and I just wrote it down and signed it.  This is all real by the way!

Then, a few hours later, he drove my translator and me to the courthouse in a van.  At least I wasn't handcuffed.  We were being treated well because the other Central Asian, who violated his visa rules, was made to walk.

The court officials thumbed through my passport and said, "Oh, an American passport."  They pointed to the chip in it.  They thumbed through all the places I went through and said, "Ah - the guy's been to Dubai."  My translator said this was a blatant abuse of official power to make fun of the American. 

The agent walked in to see the judge before we were allowed in.  I knew what was happening.  They were setting my fine price.  They didn't let us in.

Then we were allowed in, and I stood before the judge, proud and dignant because I had done no wrong - at least in my opinion.  The judge summed me up and asked me to approach.  I suppose I was supposed to be intimidated by everyone's uniforms and the formality they were on them.  I was not.  Probably because I've took on the LAPD enough times with my law firm.  Probably because there was very little I was afraid of anymore.  The following conversation was done through translation.

The judge asked, "Do you accept your guilt?"

I replied, "I did not know I overstayed.  I was given misinformation at Moscow Passport Control; I followed it.  And you can see, I tried to leave five days later, exactly like I was told."

"Where did you go?"

"I went to Lake Baikal and the Altai Mountains."

He smiled at this.  It would be like a foreigner telling an American judge he went to Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Sequois.  The judge was proud Russia had gems to offer me.

He said, "I still pronounce you guilty."  Of course, I thought.  He went on, "Your fine is 5000 rubules ($166)."

I said, "Your honor can you please lower your fine.  This hassle has cost me so much in terms of flight changes."

"That is not the problem of this court."

"May I have one more word?"

"You may."

"I was trained in law.  Your honor, for me to be guilty I must have intended to break the law.  As you can see, I had no such intent.  I was under the belief my visa was valid."|

"Yes, but if you had intended to break the law, you would have been deported."

This statement angered me the most because I knew that he believed my sincerity and my story and still pronounced such a high fine for such a stupid infraction.  I sat down.

The Central Asian, who came from a former Soviet country was also pronounced guilty.  He lied to the judge and made up a story of how he was sick and couldn't leave.  He overstayed several months to work on illegal contracts.  The judge did not look happy and fined him only 4,000 rubules.

I left that courtroom upset.  The agent was mad too and defensive.  He said to my translator, "Your American friend should be happy.  We could have deported him."

I didn't fight him, but I wanted to say, "And I would have been happy if you deported me so I could leave your corrupt country."  But that wouldn't have helped.

I walked out angry and stressed.  Usually, the fine is only 2000 rubules.  I suppose the State Department is raising their price.

Let me explain why I was upset.  One, I was fined more for being American!  Everyone, in the room knew this and my translator admitted it.  The agent even said, "He's American.  He can pay."  Two, the court is supposed to be an independent, fair, trier of fact.  Here, it was just a pawn of the State Department.  I told my translator, this is just a show and pony trial.  Russia wants to pretend it's democractic.  It forces a confession out of me, and then proceeds to have a show trial, all so they can charge me this much money.  It's a business to keep all these state officials alive.

He just said, "The only injustice here is not that you were charged 5,000 rubules.  It's that the Central Asian was charged 4,000 rubules."

Anyways, I thanked my translator and bought him dinner.  For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be in the scapegoat class.  You have no remedy but to put up with it.  I heard so many stories of how the Jews in Russia were told that they couldn't be doctors or lawyers because they were Jewish.  Well - being Asian or American really didn't put me in a better class.  I was punished more severely because of my nationality.  Now, I know why they didn't let me leave Russia.  You can leave Russia but pay lots more first!

I hatched plan (I think viable) to leave Russia like a coyote.  My translator called my host, who said, "What?!  Is this some kind of American joke?"  I guess that idea was a no-go, but I think it viable nonetheless.

Although I've been blogging on the unhappy, which readers cannot read too much of without it being too much, there is some good news.  While under Russian house arrest, I've come across plesant surprises.  I met a new Russian friend.  I began doing more scientific research and think I know what's the origin of all cancer mutations.  Tomorrow, I probably tour some cathedrals and the day after some modern art galleries. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Imprisoned in the Prison of Russia by Russian Bullies

As the title suggests, I have been imprisoned in the borders of Russia.  Yes, although it's not the type of prison you imagine.  I've been detained at the borders of Russia.  My freedom is contained within its borders.  I can go as South to the Caucaus Mountains, North to the Tundra, East to Vladivostok, or West to Moscow.  But my prison is literally Russia, I cannot escape it.

Yesterday, I attempted to leave Russia out of St. Petersburg and into Munich.  The airlines wouldn't issue me my boarding ticket.  I couldn't understand why.  They kept repeating, "Problem with Visa.  Problem with Visa."

My visa said that I was to enter on Sept. 9 and leave Oct. 1.  But, I entered on Sept. 14th and was leaving on Oct. 6th.  It said I could stay for 22 days.  When I entered Russia, I checked with Moscow Passport Control and explained how there was problem with my visa.  It was five days too early and that I needed to stay 22 days.

The man at passport control said no problem.  No problem.  I thought it'd be ok too because a tourist visa is usually good for 30 days, and I didn't go over this period.  Further, usually when you enter a country (except for Russia), they mark your entrance as the furst day and start counting to let you stay until your tourist period runs out.  In my case, this would be 22 days.  I was wrong.

At the airport, they didn't issue my boarding pass.  I said, "I need to talk to someone.  I need to talk to someone in charge."  A hardened border patrol woman, in a light blue police-looking uniform comes up to me.  She has black hair and black eyes and has a hardened look.  As I described to my friend later, a third of her face looked like a dog, a third of it looked like woman, and the rest of a man.  She looked at my visa and said, "You cannot leave today!"  She spoke Russian with a Rossiya Airlines translator with me.  The translator explained I was stuck.

I had the translator explain what I was told in Moscow.  The hardened woman pointed to the visa expiration date and said what I even understood in Russian: No!  I explained again what happened, and she repeated herself like a song on rewind.

I said, "Let me speak to her boss.  Or let me speak to her alone."

She told the translator her response.  The translator then said, "She says, 'She's too busy!  To get out!'"  She walked away and back to her little box with a window, in which people walked in front of her to her aisle

My problem was looking more and more hopeless.  What could I do?  I wasn't going to give up.  My will was made up; I was going to leave Russia.  I wanted to go Germany, which was a route on my way home.

I walked up to her aisle and stood there.  I looked at her with silence and said to her in in Russian, "Please!"

In response she said, "Get out!"

I said, "No."

She took my passport and babbled Russian.  I could make out though what she was saying.  Get out.  You're not leaving Russia!

I just stood there in silence looking at her with my dark, henna brown eyes.  I wasn't leaving.  She said, "Get out, or I'll call the police."

I don't know what came over me, but I shrugged, gesturing, I don't care if you call the police.  She found my defiance disgusting, and she made a phone call. 

Immediately, two Russian airport police officers showed up.  They were thin and wore blue uniforms.  Remember these colors becase I'll be referring to these people by their colors.

I can't remember how one of the officers looked, except he had those ice blue eyes.  I clearly remember the other one.  He was hansome and either in his late 20's or early 30's.  He had ice blue eyes and looked like a rookie.  But in his face, I saw kindness.

The dog-woman barked commands at the officer.  They told me in broken English, "Leave.  Please."

Again I said, "Net (No)."

They asked the dog-woman where I was from.  She said, "America."  The two stiffened at hearing I was a Roman Citizen.  This was the first time abroad I was exploiting my citizenship for all that it was worth.

The two just stared into my eyes and were confused.  They just stood there.  Again they said, "Leave.  Please."

At this point, I made the gesture to be arrested and said, "No!!"  The dog-woman became angrier and hence, uglier.  She began dialing the phone again and screaming commands into the phone.  The handsome blue officer kept making my eye contact with me.  I've seen that look before and instantly knew he was attracted to me.  It could have been a physical one or maybe an emotional one, where he couldn't understand how a small guy like me could have such absolute resolve and courage to stand up against this lady.  It could have been a combination of the two, but in either case, I've seen the look many times before; so, I needed any kinds of friends in this pickle. 

I stared back with my ebony eyes into his icy cool ones and with them I sent him a message: Look: I just want to leave.  I'm innocent.  This is all just a misunderstanding.

As I've been told over and over again, communication is only 10-20% words, and it was certainly working.  I connected with him in some mysterious human way, and he was like a snake to the snake charmer.  I could feel my will seed it itself in him.  This would be important later.

 After the second phone call - two federal officials showed up.  One was a beautiful, blonde Russian woman, the kind you see in movies.  The other was a lanky, wiry, thin, ugly, and blonde man.  He had crooked and bad teeth.  There were two airport officials, a woman and a man in a suit (the airport officals we'll call them.)  The blonde Russian woman explained to me the same thing dog-woman said.  I responded about what I was told in Moscow.  This was going no where.

The ugly man with bad teeth was more cunning.  Ugly man said that he would help me get my ticket if I would leave the dog-woman's aisle.  I studied his face and wasn't sure.  I wanted to trust him because I wanted to go home but a deep instict told me this was a lie.  At this point, the dog-woman, the blue uniforms (the airport police), the federal police, and the officials looked hopeful.

So, I walked a few steps out of the aisle, followed ugly man, and a metal shield was starting to slide down.  Like Indian Jones, I flew back into her aisle.  Dog-woman was infuriated and as a result, looked even uglier.  Ugly man was pissed off (and I can't describe it another way).  I can only say that to me, he looked even more pathetic angry than he did calm.

So - dog-woman made more calls.  And in all this time, handsome airport police - kept making eye contact with me.  He felt sorry for me.  He wished he could do something.  I could feel it.

My will had hardened like drying concrete slurry.  I was mad too that I was lied to.  Then, two more officers in grey and red came out.  (Thus, this brings the count to two blue airport police, two federal police two grey police, two officials, and dog lady; that's 9 by my count.)

One of officers was a tall bear of a man and he pushed me out of the aisle because his body was large enough to stand between it.  Dog-lady explained the situation.  Beer Belly asked, "Where's he from?"  She answered, "America."  He stiffened, and I saw him confused.  Obvioulsy, it was work to think, and he didn't do much of either.

Eventually, he pushed me out with his big and beer belly stature.  Really - he pushed me out with his fat beer belly and just did it by running me over.  The handsome airport police officer was sympathetic.

Hurray for them - victory!  I was out the aisle.  But my will had been made up: I wanted to go home.  I did not want to go back into Russia.  Therefore, I sat down on the floor, outside of dog woman's aisle.  Now - everybody in the airport - passengers, staff, the cleaning people were wondering what the hell was going on.  I just sat there, unafraid and unmoved and at peace.

The dog-woman retreated but the 8 officers stared at me with anger and thought what now.  Nobody knew.  There I was - just sitting in the middle of the floor.  So - they all talked in Russian and thought to themselves they hatched some brilliant plan. 

The two blue officers took the baggage off my airport baggage cart.  They grabbed my shoulder, one on each side, and picked lifted me and placed me on the baggage cart.  Both were gentle and kind., especially the handsome one.  They were only following orders.  Then they set my baggage on my knees and were ready to drag me out.  I used a judo, ground slide.  The baggage tumbled.  There I was again: sitting on the floor.
 Remember: the crowd was watching; thus, they were looking stupider.  Again, there were 8 officers against one boyish looking guy.  I mean really - how much of a threat was I?

Another call was made and three more people came.  This brings the total to 12 now.  Two of them were wearing military fatigues - colored in blue and grey camouflage.  They were two men that were chubby but had a build of a rook underneath - the same kind my brother has.  They were scary because they looked hardened and cruel.  This told me they probably had already done all kinds of terrible things that I have no desire of knowing about.  On them - they wore huge black batons.  Yes, I felt fear, but then I told myself - I want to go home; so, I don't care how many weapons they flash before me.

The dog-woman came back out.  She explained everything.  The two bears looked at me like I was a simple problem for them to take care of.  But then, they asked where I was from and she said once again, "America."  At this word - they looked annoyed.

Who was the third person?  A small lady of about 50-60 came in a biege suit.  Don't you like the melody of colors?  She had silver hair and was more dignified than the rest of them, but nonetheless, I've seen her type.  Her manners were the velet covering an iron heart.  She studied me and instantly knew what the rest did not: I more of a problem than she had originally thought.

The irony of the situation was the two most powerful players in this game were also the smallest and carried no weapons, shouted no words, or made no threats.  I was wearing blue jeans, an A&F T-shirt, and tennis shoes.  I looked like a 20-something college student, but she knew that there was more to this picture than a foolhardy young, tourist that I portrayed.  Besides the director, they didn't know that I had just finished law school, took the bar, and was well on my way to becoming a license attorney.  While I did not have any guns, batons, and knives, I was armed with words.

She spoke good English.  She began the useless chatter of bureacratic rules and added, "What would you like us to do?  We don't make the rules.  We just follow them."

"What do you do?"

"I'll be a lawyer soon."

"Then you should know the laws of the country you're in."

But this is impossible in Russia, because as I've experienced again and again, the administration makes the rules as it goes along.  In short - they do what they want - when they want.  There is only one rule here: The government is always right.  So, in this case, perhaps I should have submitted that it was right.  But I could not because it was not.

I said few words in response, "I just want to leave."

"That's not possible.  What do you want us to do?"

"Let me leave."

She started repeating the situation, and I interrupted trying to explain my side.  She said, "Don't interrupt.  Won't you let me talk.  I'm here now."

I wanted to roll my eyes.  I've used that line before.  But I let her talk.  She ended by saying, "You need to leave the airport."

I responded, "Why don't you arrest me then?  Just arrest me.  I'm happy for that to happen."  I wanted to be arrested now.  I knew then it would trigger a diplomatic chain reaction.  This way, I'd also have a call and visit from my consulate.  And most importantly of all - I wanted to share this story before a decision maker.  I knew all these people would be in trouble if I could get arrested because it wouldn't be a good diplomatic move - when the person in charge found out I was arrested because I wanted to go home.

She paused and once again realized I was up to something - no good in her opinion.  She responded in a predictable way, "Are you insane?  You sound insane to me.  Only crazy people want to be arrested.  We'll send you to an insane asylum.  Do you really want that?"

"Yes.  I want to be arrested."  All the while, all 11 other people are watching.  I feel safer.  My handsome officer has somehow become a guardian to me.  I know he won't let me get hurt.

She - somehow - was thwarted.  She showed she was irritable.  The director made a call - and beer belly came out with some kinds of papers.  I think they were arrest papers, but they looked official.  I thought to myself - what'll happen next.  Will I spend a day in prison with the Russian Spike?  Well, if I do, I guess I'll tell him that there's hope that he can change and that life is worth living.

Then - two more people come.  We're now at 13.  They wore green official military uniforms and looked like officers.  One looked cold and Ariyan.  The other was beginning to enter into obesity and had black, oily curly hair and wore glasses.  No doubt - his father put him in this position.  They all started chattering in Russian, and I heard the word American being thrown around once or twice.

The two bears in military fatigues hooked my arm pits and tried to carry me out.  I resisted and walked back to the aisle.  Ugly man pushed me with a hatred inside of him; this was really just a hatred of himself.  I tried to make the push look harder than it was by swaying with his force, and everyone looked concerned.  They told him, No!  No!  The guardian looked even more concerned.

I sat down again.  I then closed my eyes.  They asked, "What is he doing?"  I was praying.  I was asking God to give me wisdom, to give me peace, and to help my find my way out of this situation.

I mean, what options was I left with?  I think even if you were an athiest or an agnostic, when you're left with so little options, what else could you do but pray.  Is that so dangerous?  I heard Russian chattering and hearing the word meditation.

Now of all my acts of defiance, this one they hated the most.  I heard more tense chatter.  What was so dangerous about a person meditating or prayer.  Whatever the reason, the room became tighter with tension.  I felt the bears grab my wrists.  I closed my eyes and still kept praying, and they dragged me out with my buttocks dragged against the floor.  I looked like a rag doll in the hands of cruel bears.  The crowd watched and stared in shock.

I was thrown out of the airport.  I just sat there and thought what next.  I waited five minutes.  I walked passed customs without caring what they were saying.  I showed them all their effort was wasted, and we were once again at square one.  I stood in front of the aisle.  The Green Officials, especially the Airyan, grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and pulled me out the airport.

By this time, my flight had already left.  So - I really didn't know what to do.  I then asked myself: What came over you?  What if they had kneed your jaw and knocked out your teeth?  What if they punched your cheek?  What if they slapped your ear so it rang and burned and stang?  What if they  punched your stomach and knocked the air out of you?

But they did none of these things.  In fact, 13 people were called out for one small, American guy who wanted to go home.  I did not want to go back to Russia.  I asked myself another question - do you feel any shame?  I said, why should I be ashamed?  When you were dragged out - who was in the one in power?  I glibbly smiled and realized the answer.  I also heard my mentor's voice remind me, "Don't get into trouble in Russia."  Too late.

I brushed off the dust on my clothes.  I walked passed customs once again.  The oily hair green official noticed me but neither of us seemed alarmed.  I pointed at ticketing, indicating I needed to sort this mess out.  He escorted me to the ticketing office.  I guess to them - I raised the white flag of surrender. To them - they won the war.

I can't understand Russia.  I've been stopped on numerous occasions because I'm Asian.  They hate Central-Asians here, and I suppose I resemble them.  They're the Russian version of Mexicans.  So - they stop you for a passport check, hopefully attempting to catch you with some visa problem (which we can all obviously see is not that hard to have).  I mention this - to show you that Putin's Administration does not want me in Russia and constantly reminded me of this point.

But if the Administration does not want me in Russia - why won't it let me out of Russia?

I went to my American embassy.  They were useless.  I had to talk to my consulate on the phone because he was busy, driving with his assistant Svetlana.  The people I saw leave the embassy looked like they were having a jolly time, drinking cappuccino and riding in fancy cars.  I imagined my consulate riding in his mercedes while talking to me on a cell phone and saying best of luck to you with the Russians.  HELLO - ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE ARE IN TROUBLE.  When you get finished enjoying your high life, can you remember what you're here for?

I asked if they can have someone help me deal with the Russian Administration.  Matthew, the one I imagine riding around in a Mercedes, told me they could not.   See: I was right - I should have been arrested.

I called my host Sasha and felt shameful that I had to waste his time, energy, and worry.  I told him everything and how stressed I was now.  I said I was in a prison called Russia.  I could travel anywhere in this vast country, but I was still in a prison.

He said, "Not bad prison.  Good prison.  St. Petersburg good place!  Not like Siberia.  You stay with me - 10 days, 12 days.  It's ok.  Good."

Bless his heart because he has one of gold.  That did make my bleak situation seem brighter.

I said, "Yes, yes.  I think so too.  But, I'm still in prison."

[If my sense of lost dignity brought you any sort of entertainment value, can you send my story please to at least ten of your friends?  If I can't get out of here, might as well let the American people know how the Russian bullies - the government - treated an innocent American tourist.  That's all I have left.]

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Meeting the Siberian Chess Master

I broke out of Sveta's apartment to meet the Siberian Chessmaster.  My prison was not a real one, but Sveta worries about me.  So - when she goes to work, she leaves me in the apartment.  Because I speak little Russian and virtually nobody in Siberia speaks English, she worries I'll get hurt.  This is a side point to note about Russian women.  My view is that Russia builds strong women and lazy, weak men.  Men don't seem to work or want to work, and it seems like women do everything.  Hence, women like Sveta then overprotect their children.  I felt like her kid.  I understand her worry, and it comes from a good place in her heart.  But boys must learn to be men, and men must learn to "endure their journey hence."

Therefore, I was determined to break out and find my way to the subway station.  I needed to meet my chessmaster.  My chessmaster wrote me an email and his phone number and the directions to meet him at Red Prospect.  After I leave the apartment, I ask everyone, Where's the Metro?  I follow their instructions in a new, unknown Soviet world.  I felt like a boy again on some treasure hunt with only having a phone number and map.  But then again, wasn't my whole BAR trip one big treasure hunt?  It all seems Soviet to me because everything looks the same - the same color high rise concrete buildings - the same looking shops - the same items sold at the shops are present everywhere in Siberia.  Eventually, I did make it to Red Prospect and found my chessmaster.

We sit at a nearby cafe together.  When one imagines a chessmaster, at least the way I do, you imagine an old, wise man.  The guy is 25.  He wears glasses and has flat hair.  He's a bit geeky but not so much that he's socially ackward.  But I'm certain, the guy would be into scifi and space creatures and probably also into Hawking's String Theory.

The cafe is playing jazz music and around us are loungers of society - who smoke cigarettes, pretend to be more important than they are, and want to be seen.  We set up the chessboard.  I play white, him black.

I started with my opening move.  He says, "That's the best move for white."  We continue the game, until some options open up.  I ask him what I should do, and like all experts he has the same response, "It depends on the situation, what you should do next."

"So - what are you thinking about?"

He goes into this thought process.  He says, "Well - it depends what kind of attack you want to set up next."

I said, "How do I know which attack I should go for?"

"Well, part of that is style but you can either move towards ultra-aggressive or you can move toward strangulation."

"How do I know when one is a better strategy than the next?"

This was the most important part of the lesson.  I observed a sinister grin come over his face.  He explained it to me, and I felt a devilish delight spring into my heart and was expressed in my eyes - shimmering with excitement.  I never knew - I thought.  All those stupid chess books and internet explanations had never taught me the core of this grand strategy.  My eyes told the chessmaster I knew for they already told him: I see.

And he acknowledge it and said, "You see, now?"


I found it ironic that the former-Soviet was teaching the American the Art of War.  If you had not seen the board, our conversation sounded more like a war game than chess.  We then created a simulation.  I chose him that I would chose the ultra-aggressive strategy and explained why I was choosing this.  He said, "I think you're a good student."

I said, "Thank you.  I've had many good masters before me."

We continued the game and at each point, when it was a critical part of the battle, I would ask him what was going on through his head.  I was getting a glimpse into the inner machinery of a chessmaster.  He welcomed it, and I was absorbing destructive and powerful knowledge.  Although I have never personally met a dictator in my life, I knew how one felt when his nuclear bomb successfully detonated at a test site.

Towards the end game, that I could only win now by ordering my troops to enter into complete bloodshed.  I said, "But this is barbaric.  Surely, there must be a more sophisticated way of winning without so many lives lost."

He said, "No.  You don't have enough power or leverage or advantage to have another strategy.  If you did, sure you can play a more graceful way.  But - at this point - it becomes total warfare.  Further, you have power on the two flanks.  Keep marching up your men to the end to divide my forces and my attention.  Then you win."

In Russian I nodded and said, "I understand."

He said again, "You're a very good student."

I smiled.

I paid for the bill of tea and crepes.  Little did anyone know that the two of us were studying the Art of War in a small, Siberian cafe.  I only had an hour with him but learned great secrets of battle.  Here are two lessons that came out of it meeting with the chessmaster.

First, it is this.  In War, the Chessmaster must always remember that each piece is inferior to the main objective of winning.  This is a real politik paradigm, but what it means is that you cannot care about your pieces.  Each piece is disposable and must be to win.  Every piece's objective is to die for the cause.  I know this is a basic principle of chess, but I saw it better now.

Second, I learned what true defeat means.  It's not what we really think.  We think that to destroy, defeat, loot, or humiliate the opponent is defeat.  This is an immature understanding of conquest.  What real conquest is is this: it is to rob, remove, and eliminate the opponent of any kind of freedom.  This is checkmate - when the opponent has no moves left.  If freedom is full range of possibility, defeat is when all your options have been taken away from you.  This, in my opinion, is Evil's primary goal - to hold you or someone else in bondage.  You have no options left.

After I left the cafe, the chessmaster gave me a hug and said he'd like to see me again.  I said I'd come back in the summer.  After saying goodbye to him, I flew like a bird to Sveta's apartment.  I had a flight to catch to St. Petersburg soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Search for the Elixir

There were three of us in search for the Elixir of Life.  Sasha, Svet, and me (Pasha, Pavel, or as you probably know me as Paul).  I have to say we scored.  Sasha's rich business friend lent him a Mercedes-Benz for the trip.  I told Svet, "Sure beats the ride in a Soviet train."

From Central Siberia, we drove South.  It would be an 8 hour drive going there and a 10 hour drive coming back.  We detoured on the way back.  My point is a point I've made over and over again: Siberia is just huge.  If one placed the U.S. inside Siberia, Siberia easily engulfs it.  Hence, to get from one place to the next seems to take ages.

I told Svet, "You know - to do Siberia properly - I think you need a helicopter."

She said, "Yes, you are right and lots of money to buy the petrol.  There are so many places in Siberia, where only a helicopter can reach."

I was convinced this was not like my travels in New Zealand or other places.  It's just a different experience to feel how vast, wild, and powerful the landscape of Siberia imprints in or against you.

Soutehrn Siberia was clinging onto summer.  While the day went on, I was removing layer after layer of clothing.  It was warming up.  In the end, I only had a tee shirt on.  I had removed two jackets, my beanie, and my thermal shirt.

Driving through the roads, the trees were harbingers of the eminent fall.  As I said in my previous post, the Taiga was shedding golden foils of leaves.  I hardly saw any ruby ones in the South, but the endless highway was matched with infinite trees of topaz and emerald that were on the side of the road.  It was much nicer than the LA freeways of the I-10 or I-5.

On the side of the road, the people sold wild products of honey, bee pollen, pine nuts, or wild mushrooms.  At one point, we stopped by the road and hunted for some mushrooms.  My hosts told me the ones I got were poisonous; so, I wasn't allowed to eat them.  I listened to them, but one of them smelled so good, I had my doubts if it was really poisonous.

We finally reached our cottage in the mountains.  And this is where I was a bit disappointed.  The cottage itself was amazing.  Across from us was an ancient and mystical monastery.  The aquamarine water flowed below us, and our natural walls were the forest trees.  The problem with it was that it was too civilized.  I knew that the Essence of Immortality grew in the most inhabitable parts of the Taiga.  This was too easy.

After we settled in, we did see the medicine man.  When I saw what he thought was the Essence, I knew I had failed.  Read that again: I failed, at least in procuring the Essence of Immortality.  I felt a bit sad; I knew it was too good to be true that someone would just sell it to me.  I turned to his books, leafed through them, and showed them the drawing of what I needed.  He actually said, "I've never seen that grow in the forest.  Does it even exist in Siberia?"

Well - I thought - might as well make use of your time here.  So, Svet and I asked him a lot of questions about what he knew.  We learned about the Rose of Resurrection and other mysteries of Siberia.  We learned to make healing potions and tinctures.  The man confirmed for me that cedar's blood (what we call sap) has the power to drive out viruses.  I already knew this because I stumbled upon an occultic alchemist text by accident and the alchemist swore by the power of cedar.  It was now confirmed.

But what about the trade I had to make?  I described the infirmity I had to cure.  He showed me what was required, and he swore with enthusiasm that his wife had the same problem, and it cured her.  Why does Siberia have so many artifacts of white magic?  I didn't know what was in the tincture, but I didn't really need to know to believe him.  For I studied his face, and knew that not even the best actor of Los Angeles could fake such enthusiasm, happiness, and joy.  That was proof enough for me; so, I bought his items for a very reasonable price.  So did Svet.  So did Sasha.  We all had an interest in different items and ailments.

Then we shared our secret.  Remember - the meeting where we met the mystery man who shared with us about Shamballa?  Well - we shared about an artifact called the Spirit of Life.  We described it and explained the mystical properties.  We already had the Sprits of Life in our posession.  The healer and his friend looked at us with amazement.  We described where to find the item in the Taigai, and there was a new life of adventure that filled them too.

I was strangely touched by how neither party pretended to know more than one another.  We shared what we knew openly and were touched by each other's kindness.  We were all journeying together for the same thing: the search for the truth.

At the mountains, we went through the Valley of Spirits and Shadows.  We foraged, searched, and were in awe of the pristine and powerful force of nature around us.  On one part of the journey, we went to a small monastery, and when we went there truly was something sacred inside.  The force inside of it silenced the busyiness, anxiousness, and stress of my heart and mind.  Inside of me - I felt only a dark and peaceful silence.  Svet described it as the same.

Furthermore, when I fell asleep there, I was visited by an explosion of dreams.  Not just one.  I must have had three each night.  I remembered two of them.  In one, I was driving a motorcycle.  I accidentally hit a group of cars, but none of them were damaged or harmed.  The group had me kneel in a circle and kept maliciously persecuting me for harm I had not caused.  In my second dream, I was visited by old friends.  It really was a spiritual experience (although in this case not a pleasant one) that I cannot explain.

So - in some ways - I failed.  I didn't get what I was looking for, but I guess I got something else.  I saw Southern Siberia - now how many Westerners, including Americans, can say that?  I evaluated my failure and thought it through.  I was a bit naive to think it'd be so easy.  If Chinese emperors failed in these expeditions, I guess it's not a huge shame that I did too.  I knew now what it would take: a longer visa, more money, more time, and a deeper trek into the forest - where man does not go.  All those things, I had no foresight before I arrived into Siberia.

But the reflection also got me to see one important insight: I'm coming back to Siberia.  I cannot give up, and I refused to do so too.  I need my Elixir - not to drink or to trade anymore.  No.  I need my Elixir because my heart desires the journey and my soul requires me to finish it.  As Shakespeare said in King Lear, "Men must endure their journey hence."  If Ahab had his hunt for the whale, then I have my hunt for the Elixir.  It will, in time, belong to me.

But all in all, even though it's a technical failure, it's hard to call this expedition a failure.  I learned about the mystic properties that formed this universe.  I met stranger after stranger who helped me to get where I needed to go.  I saw the awesome Siberian landscape, even though it was only a fraction of it.

Tomorrow, I leave Siberia behind.  I will arrive into Moscow and transfer there to the cultural capital of Russia: Saint Petersburg.  From there, I fly into Munich, Germany for The Octoberfest.  Then I will head into Sardinia and then into Barcelona.

Get this: I have an internet friend (who I never met in person before) whom I share travel secrets with, and he with me.  He bought my flights into Sardinia and into Saint Petersburg.  Now - isn't that random?  I swear, this journey has become stranger than any fiction.

Anyways, I tentatively plan to come back to Siberia in the summer of 2013.  Anyone interested in an expedition?

-Siberia calls me back because there are four items sacred to it.  The Essence of Immortality, The Essence of Life, the Rose of Resurrection, and water from the Lake of Spirits.  Of these, I have the last three.  I need the first one still.