The broken vow: Her Italian boyfriend

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQyPH5UMoAE

Alina got an Italian boyfriend. Her father always said.

Alina never had one from Italy but one from Bulgaria – the parents never endorsed the relationship. Why Bulgaria? Would he be able to offer you a decent life? Why were you speaking Bulgarian all day? You shouldn’t betray your Russian heritage. The parents had a lot of concerns.

Growing up in Sochi, Alina never had an adventure, like living in a foreign country on her own. So she decided to take a few months off and she served as a receptionist at a hotel in Albena, a resort city in Bulgaria.

Alina found Albena and Sochi similar in many ways: the sea, the beach, and the resort area. Albena was just another typical resort city that could be easily found in the region. However, her life in Albena was very different – she was nobody, far from her family and possibly the freest person alive.

Despite the similarities between the two languages Bulgarian and Russian, Alina insisted on speaking in English. After all, speaking a foreign language gave her special feelings as if she had a new life in a new country with new people and new lifestyle.

Alina worked as a receptionist in hotel and she knew the bellboy Martin better and better. They simply enjoyed the company of each other. He helped her to adapt the life in Albena and she accompanied him to revise the exams. None of them expected romance.

Alina would only stay Albena for 3 months. What can they expect?

Still, they fell in love. Alina’s parents were getting concerned when they learned that Alina started learning Bulgarian and speaking Russian with a foreign accent.

Don’t be so serious. Her parents said. She told herself the same thing too. More serious she felt, more heartbroken she would get. After all, she had to leave Albena someday. It was just a matter of time.

Then the day came. Martin promised to pay a visit to Alina in Sochi. He wanted to remain a long distance relationship. Never in her life encountered someone who took her as seriously as Martin did.

When Alina was back to Sochi, she often associated Sochi to Albena: the sea, the beach, and the resort area. She even imagined what she would show him when he came to Sochi.

Time flied. Six months were gone. Although they tried to talk to each other on Skype everyday, they had a feeling that they lost track of the life of each other.

One day Alina heard from Martin. He wanted to pay a visit and he needed an invitation from her for visa application. When she was filling the invitation form, she started to hesitate: Am I ready to see him again? What can we do after the reunion?

Time never stopped. So was the sense of hesitation. They broke up the day before the invitation letter arrived.

She kept the paper and put it somewhere. She neither wanted to throw away the letter, nor put the letter somewhere prominent. She didn’t want to forget a person who took her so seriously in her lifetime; meanwhile, she sought to let go the past.

Three years were gone. She learned that he got a new girlfriend although they sometimes revisited the memories they shared in Albena.

Walking along the beach in Sochi, Alina couldn’t stop herself imagining: what if he had come to Sochi? Would that make a difference?

A café next to the seashore was playing a Russian song by Anna Karenina. The lyrics* lingered in the air as if they were also mourning for a broken vow with Alina.

Спасибо Вам и сердцем и рукой, (With this my heart and this my hand I thank)
За то, что Вы меня, не зная сами, (You that – although you don`t know it -)
Так любите: За мой ночной покой, (You love me thus; and for my peaceful nights)
За редкость встреч закатными часами, (And for rare meetings in the hour of sunset,)

За наше не-гулянье под луной, (That we aren`t walking underneath the moon,)
За солнце не у нас над головами, (The sun is not above our heads this morning,)
За то, что Вы – увы! – больны не мной. (That you – alas – are burning not for me)
За то, что я – увы! – больна не Вами (And that – alas – it`s not for you I`m burning.)

* Translation of the lyrics was extracted from http://www.flipbooth.com/yt/msO66fUGrRA/

The broken vow: Her Italian boyfriend

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQyPH5UMoAE

Alina got an Italian boyfriend. Her father always said.

Alina never had one from Italy but one from Bulgaria – the parents never endorsed the relationship. Why Bulgaria? Would he be able to offer you a decent life? Why were you speaking Bulgarian all day? You shouldn’t betray your Russian heritage. The parents had a lot of concerns.

Growing up in Sochi, Alina never had an adventure, like living in a foreign country on her own. So she decided to take a few months off and she served as a receptionist at a hotel in Albena, a resort city in Bulgaria.

Alina found Albena and Sochi similar in many ways: the sea, the beach, and the resort area. Albena was just another typical resort city that could be easily found in the region. However, her life in Albena was very different – she was nobody, far from her family and possibly the freest person alive.

Despite the similarities between the two languages Bulgarian and Russian, Alina insisted on speaking in English. After all, speaking a foreign language gave her special feelings as if she had a new life in a new country with new people and new lifestyle.

Alina worked as a receptionist in hotel and she knew the bellboy Martin better and better. They simply enjoyed the company of each other. He helped her to adapt the life in Albena and she accompanied him to revise the exams. None of them expected romance.

Alina would only stay Albena for 3 months. What can they expect?

Still, they fell in love. Alina’s parents were getting concerned when they learned that Alina started learning Bulgarian and speaking Russian with a foreign accent.

Don’t be so serious. Her parents said. She told herself the same thing too. More serious she felt, more heartbroken she would get. After all, she had to leave Albena someday. It was just a matter of time.

Then the day came. Martin promised to pay a visit to Alina in Sochi. He wanted to remain a long distance relationship. Never in her life encountered someone who took her as seriously as Martin did.

When Alina was back to Sochi, she often associated Sochi to Albena: the sea, the beach, and the resort area. She even imagined what she would show him when he came to Sochi.

Time flied. Six months were gone. Although they tried to talk to each other on Skype everyday, they had a feeling that they lost track of the life of each other.

One day Alina heard from Martin. He wanted to pay a visit and he needed an invitation from her for visa application. When she was filling the invitation form, she started to hesitate: Am I ready to see him again? What can we do after the reunion?

Time never stopped. So was the sense of hesitation. They broke up the day before the invitation letter arrived.

She kept the paper and put it somewhere. She neither wanted to throw away the letter, nor put the letter somewhere prominent. She didn’t want to forget a person who took her so seriously in her lifetime; meanwhile, she sought to let go the past.

Three years were gone. She learned that he got a new girlfriend although they sometimes revisited the memories they shared in Albena.

Walking along the beach in Sochi, Alina couldn’t stop herself imagining: what if he had come to Sochi? Would that make a difference?

A café next to the seashore was playing a Russian song by Anna Karenina. The lyrics* lingered in the air as if they were also mourning for a broken vow with Alina.

Спасибо Вам и сердцем и рукой, (With this my heart and this my hand I thank)
За то, что Вы меня, не зная сами, (You that – although you don`t know it -)
Так любите: За мой ночной покой, (You love me thus; and for my peaceful nights)
За редкость встреч закатными часами, (And for rare meetings in the hour of sunset,)

За наше не-гулянье под луной, (That we aren`t walking underneath the moon,)
За солнце не у нас над головами, (The sun is not above our heads this morning,)
За то, что Вы – увы! – больны не мной. (That you – alas – are burning not for me)
За то, что я – увы! – больна не Вами (And that – alas – it`s not for you I`m burning.)

* Translation of the lyrics was extracted from http://www.flipbooth.com/yt/msO66fUGrRA/

From Siberia with love (Part 2): The Saint Petersburg dream

From Siberia with love (Part 2): The Saint Petersburg dream

I told Misha that I was coming to Russia after a year I left Sochi. He said I should come to Saint Petersburg, the most beautiful city in Russia with the white night. So I decided to stay with them for a couple of days and we would meet in a metro station in Saint Petersburg.

Surrounded by the canals, the underground in Saint Petersburg was so deep. Walking down to the platform was a kind of dreamy experience. Amidst the crowd in the station, I saw Liza on the other side. Then we ran to each other and had a big hug. Someone captured the moment with the camera. It was Misha.

When I came to their place, I saw a small black cat. “His name is Anatoly. He comes from Sochi.” Misha said, “He evolves from your landlord to our cat.” We laughed.

“Do you still enjoy reading and writing, Brian?” Liza asked.

Misha’s humour and Liza’s question reminded me that there was a kind of friends whom you may not meet them often but they know you and your past so well.

They showed me around the city and told me the stories of Saint Petersburg. Until very mid-night, Liza was in bed but Misha told me their life stories in the balcony.

The happy couple wasn’t always happy. Getting married in their early twenties, the outside world appeared too interesting, but distracting. With the same kind of curiosity, they were both unsure about a committed relationship. They both wanted to try and explore more about this fascinating world.

Then Liza went to Saint Petersburg, leaving Misha alone in Siberia. Later they were both with someone else.

“Despite separation for a couple of years, I still thought of her in those days.” Misha said, “So I realised that the new relationship wasn’t right for me.”

Since then, as Misha described, he had gone through a tough period of lifetime. He was overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness but being with someone else only made him feel lonelier. So he was lonely but chose to stay single and alone.

One day he decided to call Liza and proposed a meeting in Saint Petersburg. “She didn’t sound interested until I said ‘I need your signature for the document of divorce’.” His tactics worked well and they confirmed a meeting on a bridge.

Before the meeting, Misha withdrew 10,000 rubles for a big feast with Liza. He put his cash in the pocket of his jacket.

The moment when they saw each other from the different side of the bridge, they pretended to be calm and walked slowly to the other side. But once they saw each other in the eyes, they knew they couldn’t lie.

Sitting in a café, they talked about many things – the city of Saint Petersburg, other good reads and their life without each other.

Instead of showing the document of divorce, Misha proposed getting back together.

“She smiled in the way that I knew her answer without a second guess,” Misha said.

When he was about to ask for the bill before another walk with Liza, he couldn’t find the10,000 rubles in his pocket.

“It was a bit unfortunate. But on that day, I still felt like the luckiest person alive.”

Looking at Misha, he smiled in the way that I could imagine the joy of the happy couple in Saint Petersburg.

Since that evening, I never ask Lisa and Misha again where they plan to go. I know no matter where they go, they will stay together.

From Siberia with love (Part 2): The Saint Petersburg dream

From Siberia with love (Part 2): The Saint Petersburg dream

I told Misha that I was coming to Russia after a year I left Sochi. He said I should come to Saint Petersburg, the most beautiful city in Russia with the white night. So I decided to stay with them for a couple of days and we would meet in a metro station in Saint Petersburg.

Surrounded by the canals, the underground in Saint Petersburg was so deep. Walking down to the platform was a kind of dreamy experience. Amidst the crowd in the station, I saw Liza on the other side. Then we ran to each other and had a big hug. Someone captured the moment with the camera. It was Misha.

When I came to their place, I saw a small black cat. “His name is Anatoly. He comes from Sochi.” Misha said, “He evolves from your landlord to our cat.” We laughed.

“Do you still enjoy reading and writing, Brian?” Liza asked.

Misha’s humour and Liza’s question reminded me that there was a kind of friends whom you may not meet them often but they know you and your past so well.

They showed me around the city and told me the stories of Saint Petersburg. Until very mid-night, Liza was in bed but Misha told me their life stories in the balcony.

The happy couple wasn’t always happy. Getting married in their early twenties, the outside world appeared too interesting, but distracting. With the same kind of curiosity, they were both unsure about a committed relationship. They both wanted to try and explore more about this fascinating world.

Then Liza went to Saint Petersburg, leaving Misha alone in Siberia. Later they were both with someone else.

“Despite separation for a couple of years, I still thought of her in those days.” Misha said, “So I realised that the new relationship wasn’t right for me.”

Since then, as Misha described, he had gone through a tough period of lifetime. He was overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness but being with someone else only made him feel lonelier. So he was lonely but chose to stay single and alone.

One day he decided to call Liza and proposed a meeting in Saint Petersburg. “She didn’t sound interested until I said ‘I need your signature for the document of divorce’.” His tactics worked well and they confirmed a meeting on a bridge.

Before the meeting, Misha withdrew 10,000 rubles for a big feast with Liza. He put his cash in the pocket of his jacket.

The moment when they saw each other from the different side of the bridge, they pretended to be calm and walked slowly to the other side. But once they saw each other in the eyes, they knew they couldn’t lie.

Sitting in a café, they talked about many things – the city of Saint Petersburg, other good reads and their life without each other.

Instead of showing the document of divorce, Misha proposed getting back together.

“She smiled in the way that I knew her answer without a second guess,” Misha said.

When he was about to ask for the bill before another walk with Liza, he couldn’t find the10,000 rubles in his pocket.

“It was a bit unfortunate. But on that day, I still felt like the luckiest person alive.”

Looking at Misha, he smiled in the way that I could imagine the joy of the happy couple in Saint Petersburg.

Since that evening, I never ask Lisa and Misha again where they plan to go. I know no matter where they go, they will stay together.

From Siberia with love (Part 1): They are the happiest couple I know

From Siberia with love (Part 1): They are the happiest couple I know

Misha and Liza are a pair of couple who came from Siberia.

The first time I met the couple was at a cocktail party in Sochi.

They seemed the happiest couple I have ever met. It had been 10 years of their journey from romance to marriage and from the frozen land to the black sea city.

Liza introduced me her husband Misha. They met when they both studied in Siberia, Liza said. And then they fell in love. Misha called it “love at first sight”.

During our conversation, Misha kept looking at his wife. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” He was one of a few men I knew who talked about his fascination of his wife despite 10 years relationship.

“You know, we won’t settle down in Sochi but it is the gateway to our future.”

“Where do you want to go?” I asked the happy couple.

Spain? The Netherlands? Canada? Wherever I named, they seemed already having a plan. They never described their plan in a concrete way, but they visualized the future that they sought to pursue.

Lisa once shared her interest in foreign literature with me. We talked about Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and among others. I asked her what made her and her husband so free, not just the kind of freedom to move around, but also their unassuming openmindness about different possibilities in life.

With both parents in academia, Lisa said: “Good education matters. And yet, our free will matters most.”

A month after I left Sochi, I heard from the happy couple that they relocated to Saint Petersburg.

I wasn’t sure where the happy couple would settle down someday. One thing for sure, they will remain a free and happy couple.

From Siberia with love (Part 1): They are the happiest couple I know

From Siberia with love (Part 1): They are the happiest couple I know

Misha and Liza are a pair of couple who came from Siberia.

The first time I met the couple was at a cocktail party in Sochi.

They seemed the happiest couple I have ever met. It had been 10 years of their journey from romance to marriage and from the frozen land to the black sea city.

Liza introduced me her husband Misha. They met when they both studied in Siberia, Liza said. And then they fell in love. Misha called it “love at first sight”.

During our conversation, Misha kept looking at his wife. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” He was one of a few men I knew who talked about his fascination of his wife despite 10 years relationship.

“You know, we won’t settle down in Sochi but it is the gateway to our future.”

“Where do you want to go?” I asked the happy couple.

Spain? The Netherlands? Canada? Wherever I named, they seemed already having a plan. They never described their plan in a concrete way, but they visualized the future that they sought to pursue.

Lisa once shared her interest in foreign literature with me. We talked about Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and among others. I asked her what made her and her husband so free, not just the kind of freedom to move around, but also their unassuming openmindness about different possibilities in life.

With both parents in academia, Lisa said: “Good education matters. And yet, our free will matters most.”

A month after I left Sochi, I heard from the happy couple that they relocated to Saint Petersburg.

I wasn’t sure where the happy couple would settle down someday. One thing for sure, they will remain a free and happy couple.

Russian Portrait: The Russian Photographer

Russian Portrait: The Russian Photographer

Artur came from Ukhta, a town from far north Russia. He studied in St. Petersburg and has relocated to Sochi, the Russian Winter Olympics city in 2014. Having lived in different parts of Russia, from industrial town to cultural capital and resort city, Artur’s camera captured all critical moments of his life and the wider Russian society. In Russia, being a photographer can rarely get rich but I have never seen him losing his passion on photography.

Russian Portrait: The Russian Photographer

Russian Portrait: The Russian Photographer

Artur came from Ukhta, a town from far north Russia. He studied in St. Petersburg and has relocated to Sochi, the Russian Winter Olympics city in 2014. Having lived in different parts of Russia, from industrial town to cultural capital and resort city, Artur’s camera captured all critical moments of his life and the wider Russian society. In Russia, being a photographer can rarely get rich but I have never seen him losing his passion on photography.

Russian Portrait: My Landlady in a Russian village

Russian Portrait: My landlady and neighbour in a Russian village

My landlady was called Lyudmila, literally means “being nice to people” in Russian. She voluntarily washed my clothes and sometimes invited me for dinner. Once we had dinner with our neighbour, a Russian family who came to Sochi for holiday. Despite my ignorance to the Russian language, I still felt like being part of the rural community. Lyudmila showed me a picture when she was a kid and she spoke to my translator: “When I was a kid, I heard of a lot of things about China. But you are the first Chinese I met in my life.”

Russian Portrait: My Landlady in a Russian village

Russian Portrait: My landlady and neighbour in a Russian village

My landlady was called Lyudmila, literally means “being nice to people” in Russian. She voluntarily washed my clothes and sometimes invited me for dinner. Once we had dinner with our neighbour, a Russian family who came to Sochi for holiday. Despite my ignorance to the Russian language, I still felt like being part of the rural community. Lyudmila showed me a picture when she was a kid and she spoke to my translator: “When I was a kid, I heard of a lot of things about China. But you are the first Chinese I met in my life.”

The Moment: Counting down for Sochi 2014

The Moment: Counting down for Sochi 2014

With Russian ambition to host the Winter Olympics Game in 2014, the two landmarks near the seacoast symbolise the modern and energetic new Sochi and Russia. There are more than a hundred of tourists, from Russia and from the rest of the world, come and count down for Sochi 2014.

The Moment: Counting down for Sochi 2014

The Moment: Counting down for Sochi 2014

With Russian ambition to host the Winter Olympics Game in 2014, the two landmarks near the seacoast symbolise the modern and energetic new Sochi and Russia. There are more than a hundred of tourists, from Russia and from the rest of the world, come and count down for Sochi 2014.

Russian Portrait: Russian Travellers in Hong Kong

Russian Portrait: The Travellers in Hong Kong

Artem and Anna are from Cheboksary, a city 700 km away from Moscow. They are like other folks I met in Russia who have a strong curiosity about the outside world. When being asked about their memories of the Soviet days, Artem said: “I only remember the Russian soviet uniform was everywhere. I like what we are – at least we can travel to Hong Kong, Spain or Egypt, and realise that there are other places better than Russia.”

Russian Portrait: Russian Travellers in Hong Kong

Russian Portrait: The Travellers in Hong Kong

Artem and Anna are from Cheboksary, a city 700 km away from Moscow. They are like other folks I met in Russia who have a strong curiosity about the outside world. When being asked about their memories of the Soviet days, Artem said: “I only remember the Russian soviet uniform was everywhere. I like what we are – at least we can travel to Hong Kong, Spain or Egypt, and realise that there are other places better than Russia.”