Farewell Natasha!

natasha red town

Haven’t blogged much since moving to Shanghai. The place itself is pretty uninspiring. My answer to the generically broad “How’s China?” question is “Ever thought about how it’d be like to live in a smokey, B-grade, indoor/outdoor shopping mall with explorative individuals from all over the world? Kind of like that.” What I do find inspiring about Shanghai are the hopes and dreams of its ever changing pool of people.

Natasha is one of those people. She was one of the VERY first people I met here. She came to Shanghai from Russia, intending to be here for one year. Five years later, she’s saying “Goodbye” to Shanghai and headed to Germany for grad school–studying British politics, history, culture, and policy and sharing her love of pickles, mashed potatoes, and roasted garlic chicken with the rest of Europe. Yesterday we met up at a cafe and wandered around Red Town.

“Girl, am I going to see you again before you leave?”

“I don’t think so. Unless you want to come to The Apartment tonight? Yeah free entrance, drinks, and a DJ if you’re a girl. Probably going at 10.”

“Awh yeah! Elyse and my roommate were going to do something tonight–so we’ll just do that. Girl how am I going to keep up with you!? You should start blogging.”

“Have one! All in Russian ha so you can’t read it. We’ll have to use Facebook.”

“Yeah I haven’t blogged much since being here. Not been inspired. But I mean people here do inspire me. Like you! Hey if you want to talk about your Shanghai time I’ll do one about you?”

“Awh really? Okay hold.on. It would be an honor. First give me your five favorite song. Asking all my friends their favorites for my flight home playlist. While I still have Baidu. That’s one of the things I’ll really miss is all the free music.”


“Awh yeah okay! Are you excited?! Love plane rides. Pause between adventures. Phone’s off and there’s nothing you’re supposed to be doing.”

“Yeah! Bringing my journal and hopefully there’ll be something good to watch. Okay-What’s your first song?”

“OK. ummmm Vanessa Carleton 1000 Miles, Shakira’s Africa..John Denver Thank God I’m a Country Boy….and….ummm….ummmm I don’t have like a list of ‘favorite songs’…Oceans by Hillsong…Lumineers Slow it Down…Yeah had that on repeat on the flight over here.”

“Thank you dear. Okay for my post. You typing? Okay–Moving to Germany I’m excited about classical music concerts. If I’m lucky I’ll get to visit the Dresden Opera House. I want to get a good bike and chill in coffee shops all day on my days off from school. It’s going to be strangely small though. Berlin only has like 7.5 million people I think.”

“Ha funny you think that’s small. I guess compared to Shanghai. You prepping for culture shock?”

“I mean, it will be different. I’ll miss the weather and riding my bike at night, but everything here I think I can recreate in Europe. China’s chaotic, but I’m used to it now. Here when I forget my metro card I just dive under the barrier or if I’m biking I can just ignore road signs or if I’m in trouble or something’s not working I can always negotiate. Germany’s not like that I don’t think. I don’t know what it will be like with people though. Shanghai doesn’t give you a real sense of community and network of people. People are always moving in and out. Their mentality is ‘I’m only here for a year anyway so….’ Some people don’t view it as their ‘real lives’ I don’t think.”

“What’s Shanghai taught you?”

“Well not Shanghai but just being away from home’s certainly made me less childish. I kind if came here hiding from my parents at home. I’ve also learned to ‘be here’. Recently realized I’m always wishing my life away. At first I couldn’t wait for college, then I couldn’t wait for China, then I couldn’t wait for grad-school in Germany. Once I had a really bad work situation in Shanghai and was thinking ‘I can’t wait for this year to be over”. But how depressing is that? Didn’t want to waste my life so reevaluated and learned to stand up for myself and actually share my opinion. I noticed that I was always hesitant and scared to share my thoughts. I’ve learned to not be scared. Ya know getting into Yoga and taking better care of myself and making sure that things like jobs I take or even going to school is happening because I want it, not because my parents or outside pressures or anyone else does. Getting away’s helped me realize what I want. Also have had to learn to cut certain people out of my life. Learn to not hide and not live in fear or according to others expectations and life’s so much better. I still worry though for example about money in Europe  and future expenses for school, but I know it will work. I always ask ‘So what? What’s the worst that can happen?” The worst is just go back to Moscow and get a job—-and that wouldn’t be bad. You typing all this?”


“Some of it’s even spiritual. I used to go to church and pray and watch people get baptized and stuff because that’s what you do in Russia. But recently wondering if I really believe it–I’m for sure about it now. I know that I’m looked after. It feels good. In the past when I was sick and stuff my mom would tell me to pray, etc. and I’d do it grumbling and didn’t really believe it or think much of it. But now when life is good I pray genuine thanks to God. I’m still learning. I don’t think I’m that different, but when I look back I do feel different. We’ll see though when I’m back in Moscow soon when the old habits creep back up.

“Think you’ll ever move back to Russia permanently?”

“That’s hard to think about. No matter how hard you try there’s so much unfairness. The government takes advantage by stealing from the economy, schools are pathetic, teachers are miserable, medicine is falling apart. Even if you go mail something at the post office it’s miserable. People are yelling at you. They’re angry. There’s so much aggression. Now though I think if I had a well paying freelance job I could move back to my hometown. It’s nice and quiet and there’s everything you could want to buy. And my parents are there. It’s bad though. The people who want to change things are condemned and tossed aside by people who are scared. I have a friend who works at a college and she got a grant from the US gov for herself and a specialist to do an art exchange in the US all-expenses paid to get experience on how to run art programs. She didn’t even get to go! The deans family went–his whole family, wife and children. None of the teachers who the grant was meant for actually went. That’s just how it goes. Nothing happens to people that take advantage. Everyone takes advantage. It’s not just the gov culture that thinks ‘what can I steal?’ it’s every sector. Teachers aren’t paid very much and are paid bribes for students’ grades.”

“Are most people frustrated like you are?”

“I was sponsored by the US gov for a year exchange when I was 15 so I have a different point of view than most Russians. I’ve seen how it works in other countries. We went to freedom forums and other things sponsored by the US consulate. Right now though Russia’s quietly shutting those programs down. They’ve made laws against them now. Russia’s pretty much communist but not this idea of sharing and living for everyone and country—but totalitarian with the billionaires and people in the government feeding off natural resources and the parliament they mostly control. Is it okay for me to say that online?”

“uhhhh…I’m sure it’ll be okay.”

“K. In college I helped organize eco clean-up days. It made us feel good but the parks just kept getting dirty again and again. Then one day I realized the government’s given money to maintain the park but by the time the city level gets around to it they realize the college students are doing it for free and so the city managers pocket the money and everyone knows it. American roads-you can lick them and you wouldn’t get sick. In Russia there are holes. They do bad jobs on purpose to keep getting road maintenance funding and then gov officials pocket some of the funding each time. Me and my dad are always asking ‘What can we do? Well next time police pulls us over we won’t pay the bribe but go to the police station and pay it normally”. No one does that. People don’t want to change. People are scared to give and nurture people who are underprivileged or invest in social good because it always gets taken advantage of. Maybe it’s cowardly for me leaving and giving up on Russia and trying to fight for democracy over there. I don’t know—maybe I could make a difference there.”

“Awh girl I’m going to miss you.”

“Awh I know. I’ve gotta head home soon to write my German Visa letter before work. Want to go interpret some sculptures?”

“Yep Let’s do it. This cafe’s precious! I’m totally coming back here for pancakes.”

“Think that lady will take a picture of us?”

“I’m going to act like I’m eating the cherry.”

red town cherry

“Tse Tse Ni!” “Tse Tse.”

red town cat

“Yeah humans usually hold cats like that.”


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