Primorsky Region; Vladivostok, Russia

Yesterday I woke up somewhere a few hours outside of Russia on the Sea of Japan. It was ice cold, and our ferry was navigating through broken ice. It continued on and off until eventually it continued unabatedly until our arrival in Vladivostok, where I am staying in a typical apartment in what appears to be a working-class neighborhood.

My hosts, Dmitry and Alexei, are kind and speak impressive English. Very few Russians speak English, and most of them have no interest in learning, because, it is the collective cultural attitude, that they already speak the greatest language in the world. This attitude is more prevalent with the older generations.

I am told that I have a good Russian face, and that when I do not smile, "it is now OK for you to walk in our ghettos." Already many locals have confused me for a Russian. Russians do not smile much, and almost never smile at strangers, even if it is a boy interested in a girl, or vice versa. I am told it is not because they are unhappy, although of course some of them are, but because smiles are considered valuable currency, an intimate gesture to be shared only with friends.

Last night I ate a traditional Russian meal of boiled dumplings and seaweed, washed down with a shared bottle of Russian vodka. You drink the bottle until it is finished, and you never place an empty bottle on the table (must go under the table). The bread here is excellent, and very cheap. It was maybe 35 cents for a quality loaf.

Arriving on Russian soil was both electrifying and terrifying. Yesterday I was mostly terrified. Today, less so. Surprisingly, customs was a breeze; nobody said one word to me: literally not even a single question, just some grunting and hard stares.

Last night I went to the edge of eastern Russia, a rocky, jetty of land reaching out toward a lighthouse; in some places the road was no more than 10 meters wide. It would be a very poor place to have your car breakdown, especially without 4WD (which we lacked), and the roads are in terrible condition (although I am told it was a good road by Russian standards). We went at night, late evening but total darkness. It was beautiful and cold but bearably so.

The city itself reminds me of San Francisco, and I have been told they are sister cities.