Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kiev vibrations

I decided to spend my Orthodox Christian Christmas in Kiev so I took the train January 6 in the morning, before flying back to Denmark on January 7. That was my third time in Kiev, but my impression of the city did not change so much for the better.

I came directly from the gay club to the train station and I thought I could just have a rest in the train, but I was wrong. Next to where I was sitting there was a sort of restaurant where three Russian guys where listening to reggae on a cell phone, drinking vodka and talking very loudly. So I gave up on sleeping and ended up drinking with them. They did not speak English but there was a Danish guy from Herning and his Ukrainian - but danish speaking - wife who translated what the guys had to say.

These are two of the Russian guys. I did not notice at first but the guy to the left was actually a real rastaman, with the sun tattooed on his back and a pocket full of marijuana. They were going to enjoy that in a special club in Kiev and they invited me to come and meet their families and celebrate Christmas the Russian way. The rasta promised to pay everything for us and he was throwing his hands up in the air to illustrate the way he would be treating his money. But when we left the train and came to the metro entrance we were stopped by some policemen and they took us to a small room and started going through all our luggage. I think the room was about 6 m^2 and besides the three of us there were 6 policemen, a desk and a small cage. They took the marijuana from the rasta and put him into the cage to enjoy his Christmas, and when they let me go that was the last place I saw him. It was the first time I saw him not smiling.

It was also about the same time that I lost my good vibrations. I have to say I am still not very fond of Kiev. I feel funny walking in the pompous streets of the centre, and I don't like the looks given by people who hang out by the metro entrances and, generally, what capitalism seems to have done to the city and it's people.

The centre of Kiev seems to be void of any real life. Like in certain areas of Copenhagen I guess the prices there have become so high that only big companies and institutions can afford to use the space. And on that Ukrainian Christmas night - when there were not even people shopping or hurrying home from work - Kiev was quiet as the grave. That night I walked passed the J-Lo flagship store to a place which a German speaking guy had recommended to me. He told me that you can determine which places have good people by how many big cars are parked outside. And that place he would give a five star rating. So I went there but was completely ignored and had to wait for more than half an hour before someone would serve me. I suspect it was because I don't look wealthy and that that was also the reason why they would not even let me in at another place. Anyway I had a lot of time to study a Jennifer Lopez 'concert' on the restaurant's T.V. screens, and the food was not so bad.

As a foreigner in Kiev I kind of feel that I am seen primarily as someone to be hustled for money. I guess I don't even have to mention the beggars/police. Here some policemen have optimized their business by learning a few English words. Late at night I met two of them and they were so insisting and kept embarrassing themselves to a point where the only polite way to end the situation was for me to give in. After paying them I felt like an idiot, but they probably felt clever.

The point where I finally had enough of Kiev was when I met a guy who very insistingly offered me to drink vodka with him and his friend. I have experienced that many times in Kharkov but never in Kharkov has someone then expected me to pay for it. This person even kept ordering, thinking I would pay. But I did not, I went home to the hotel and ate the muraveynik which I brought from Kharkov.

They say business in Kharkov is not going so well. You can see that by the number of International flights to the city. I think even Donetsk have 5 flights every day, yet Kharkov has one per day. They once planned to bring Kharkov airport up to international standards, but it is said that the project failed because the people in charge of hiring a company to do the construction was mainly concerned with how to get the money into their own pockets, and so chose a some incompetent local company. Somehow I kind of hope these egoistic capitalists of Kharkov will keep ruining it for themselves.

I decided to try out an old Soviet hotel in the suburbs of Kiev. This was were the guy from Herning stayed when he came to Kiev to meet his new wife for the first time, and the manager is actually related to his wife. The price of the room was about the same as a similarly situated room in Denmark, but the standard was more like some student dorm.

In the area of the hotel most of the metro stations have a McDonalds and some ugly casinos.

The suburbs of Kiev are different from the suburbs of Kharkov and, to me, less charming. The buildings don't have the personality that comes with the many homemade balconies you see in Kharkov. There also are no cozy back yards between the buildings. Instead buildings are placed like such tall silos which - as you can also experience in some sad new areas of Copenhagen - creates perfect conditions for the wind to blow freely, and in turn discourages natural human outside life. Besides the wind blowing there was just the sound of a lonely crow (seriously).

I met one nice person but he was an Afghan. He is studying building engineering in Kiev and when he finishes his studies he will go back to Afghanistan and start an NGO with his father and cousin. They want to be around a hundred people working in construction and health security. He told me a lot about the political stuff down there, and until I forgot it all again I was quite well-informed. But I remember he told me that very unlike in Ukraine around 80 - soon close to a hundred - percent of the people in Afghanistan speak English, and they like foreign countries.

Kiev does actually have a bit of the stuff I like about Ukraine, such as insane architects and rich people with no sense of aesthetics and a lack of regulations to stop them. I just wish Copenhagen could have a building like this right on Christianshavn.

I had a nice walk on the water which was frozen. There were many people sitting with their bags to the wind, fishing. That made me feel good, and cold.

New Year party

For New Year's eve we were invited to a party with some people who had rented a quite big two floor apartment.I was personally very excited about that because I thought Ukrainians are usually too anarchistic to actually plan something. But the girls who invited us were very busy because of that party and were discussing secretively a lot of time.

Party time. It turned out that the concept of planning a party is in fact more of a Danish thing. I think what must have kept the girls busy was mainly the concern of how to dress themselves up. At 8 in the evening we arrived at the apartment with our 'hostess presents' (another Danish-only concept, apparently) and besides that t.v., the sofa and three non-English speaking guys there was nothing. Of course we knew that in Ukraine 8 o'clock usually means 9 but we thought that on this special night special rules might apply. Actually we were right because there were no people until 10.

Like in Denmark girls are usually the last to arrive at a party, but in Ukraine they still have to make the food. Jeppe does not seem to have a problem with that.

Ukrainian delights. With a bit of cooperation you can make all that in a snap.

I kind of fish sandwich.

This is the room which later functioned as a dance floor. I have noticed that Ukrainian girls very much like to have their pictures taken next to flowers, apparently a plastic tree can also be used.

At 11 all the people were listening to Putin's New Year speech and there was the Ukrainian speech at 12.

At 12 we lit the 'kransekage' which I had brought from Denmark.

All the food was eaten.

Later many people went to Misto but I went to see Roman and Marina who had also arranged a small party. This is the University metro station early in the morning where people were waiting for the first metro.

New Year/Christmas

Ukrainians don't seem to distinguish so much between New Year and Christmas. I think that must be because during the Soviet times they were not allowed to celebrate Christmas, and to keep some of the traditions they relabeled them as 'New Year traditions'.

On the square there was this enormous 'New Year tree' with an ever changing light show going round the surface of the tree. There were also a lot of ice sculptures on which children where playing.

Andrey brought a New Year tree for the office.

They don't have such decorations at Illums Bolighus.

Santa cake. The Ukrainian/Russian Santa Clause is actually called Father Frost, who is a guy from an old Russian fairy tale. During Stalin they had to make his clothes blue, but now it seems red is back in.

On the balcony of that building DJ Santa was spinning records and in the front these grown up men dressed as mice were making a kind of entertainment.

There were actually not a lot of fireworks around, I guess it is hard to compete with what they show at the square. But anyway you could buy yourself a 'widow maker' (the box with a scull on it).

Sassy New Year's dress, has a lock with a key hole on the front.

3 months later

I went to Ukraine for ten days around New Year. In the three months since I left a few things changed and I also got to see some new stuff.

I landed in Kiev and met my friend who had bought us some train tickets for Kharkov the same night. We had to go by metro to her place and there were extremely many people there because of New Year/Christmas. One place a lot of people had to get through a single small door and the crowd was like a 'mosh pit' at a heavy concert and the women were screaming.

For all the time I was in Kharkov the construction of the 'Platinum Plaza' next to our office in Sumskaya did not seem to move forward, but now the cold probably encouraged the workers to put up some walls and windows.

The University metro station got new electronic signs.

Jacob and I discovered a new restaurant near one of the suburban metro stations.

Restaurant had a cossack theme going on, the pillar was made like a big drinking cup (notice the handle). In Denmark I really miss these surreal dining experiences.

I went to visit Sasha and Vika who had bought a new cat and their own apartment (2 rooms for $60k). Officially Sasha does not earn as much as he really does so at first he was not able to make the loan. But the apartment company had a procedure for such, he just had to pay something extra to get some fake documents. Roman and Marina also bought an apartment but they still live with Marina's grandmother because the building of the apartment is still under construction. I think also Alex from the office bought an apartment. And they all want to make their apartment interiors 'Euro style', which is probably something like the apartment in Kharkov I rented.

This was also the first time I visited Kharkov's gay club where this drag queen was making a small performance. I was not allowed to make pictures there because being gay in Ukraine is still a bit of a taboo. Jeppe and I had to kiss before they would open the steel gates and let us in, and then we were going 'atrivaitsa' all night.