My first experience of culture shock would have been in Bali, as that was the first place I’d ever been where the inhabitants didn’t look like me (i.e. wasp) and English wasn’t the national language (ok, granted I’d previously lived in NZ, and while I don’t look like a Maori, technically the Kiwis do kinda speak Nglesh). However, even though Bahasa Indonesia doesn’t sound anything like English, at least the alphabetic characters share the same Latin ancestry as my own native language, so while I couldn’t speak it, I could at least make out what the name of the street was.
Russia ,on the other hand, somewhat threw me for a loop, for even though the people looked pretty much like me, things were seriously askew; not only did they speak another language (I think yell another language would be more accurate), but they used different squiggles to write it too. Consequently, I had no idea what was going on around me or where I was, and I was in constant fear that I’d get so lost that I’d end up in a labour camp somewhere north of Siberia. Needless to say that didn’t happen, in fact I found the people very warm and friendly, and this was before Perestroika. In fact it was before the 1980 Olympics, the one where America decided to put politics before sport and took their bat home. The only down side to this was that you were constantly asked by people on the street to either sell you jeans and t-shirts, or change money (the guys on the street would be offering 50 Rubles for a Dollar when the official exchange was about 5), I soon learned from the tour guides that some of these guys were KGB, which scarred the shit out of me.
I think my two most striking memories of that time were a) standing in Red Square and realising that I was standing in Red Square, and b) seeing a queue that went for about 100 yards and asking the tour guide what they were lining up for and he replied “I don’t know, and neither do they, but they need whatever it its”.
All too soon my week of boiled Kielbasy, potato and cabbage was over and I was on the plane to Athens. But not before going through another bizarre aspect of visiting a closed country, for the first and only time I’ve had my bags fully searched (even down to squeezing my toothpaste) as I was leaving a country. Although, come to think of it, they did a check of my money when I was leaving Sri Lanka once too, but they didn’t go through my luggage.
Athens, is a really wonderful, crowded, chaotic city with friendly people, great food and spectacular bargains. But it is a city, and therefore smoggy, sticky and smelly (although no more than any other big city) so I only spent a few days there before heading south to Crete.
That’s probably enough for now, but I’ll leave you with a picture of a place that really stopped me in my tracks. Coming from a country where the oldest man-made structure was less than 200 years old (as at the time I’m writing about), walking in and around this amazing piece of history, the sheer antiquity of it was simply staggering…
Stay tuned for more exiting adventures with WT….