10 August, 2005

In Yekaterinburg, proper parking techniques aren't high on the list of priorities.

This looked pretty intimidating in my hotel room so I stayed away from it. Turns out it was a radio that was able to tune exactly one station.

I should have known from the looks of it that this zoo would be a lot more like a prison camp.

An obscenely tiny space for two polar bears. And no, the two sections don't even connect.

Another imprisoned bear.

This was an expression shared by many of the animals I saw.

Perhaps this was a show of solidarity from the one feline who could walk away.

This gives you a sense of the layout of the zoo, which was basically stuck on a city block with a lot of dilapidated buildings surrounding it.

It's not The Eye but it serves to offer a diversion when you get bored of looking at tortured animals.

This was one of Yekaterinburg's many stray dogs, who was being fed pieces of bread by passersby.

Chaos can be found in the strangest places.

All sorts of advertisements hang over Yekaterinburg streets.

One of the busier intersections with extremely wide streets, lots of vehicles, and almost no traffic lights.

This was mounted right up with the normal traffic signs outside of an Irish pub,

10 August, 2005

Day 25. My God, the people running this hotel are fucking idiots. 9:00 in the morning and they're pounding on my door like they're the fucking KGB. All to tell me what precisely? That they wanted to make the bed I was still sleeping in? What is wrong with these people? I've had sleep interrupted by housekeeping people before but never anything as ferocious as this. Is it really such an alien concept that someone might want to sleep past nine? If these fools had bothered to even *make* a do not disturb sign, I would have hung it on the door without hesitation. Now I'm all screwed up from lack of sleep and fear. Fucking morons.

Of course, getting sushi last night was a monumentally dumb move on my part. I don't have my guide to the best sushi cities in the world but I'm pretty sure Yekaterenburg wasn't in the top ten. Fortunately what I got was a lot smaller than the way it looked in the picture but I still should have known better. So today hasn't been the best of days on a number of levels.

But I was still able to stagger around the city to some degree. There is a decided lack of the English language here which I think is just fine. But I don't believe I've ever felt this cut off from home without being in the middle of a forest or something. I don't think I've heard a single American accent since I've gotten here. And I really have no idea what's going on back home. I suppose if there were anything major, I would have somehow gotten it off of Russian television. So I'm content to just exist in the equivalent of an alien planet for now. As long as I don't wander too far from a bathroom.

It's been frustrating that I haven't been able to find a place to hook up to the net. There are connections available in the post office but I do all of my work on my laptop and the only service they offer is using their terminals which have no support for USB devices. And I haven't detected a wireless connection since Moscow. I only hope it's a little better in Irkutsk, a smaller city in Siberia. I really need it to be since otherwise there really won't be a way to upload the next "Off The Wall."

Hanneke and Sasja wanted to visit the local zoo so I tagged along. I'm both happy and sad that I did. I've always had mixed feelings about zoos in the first place. On the one hand, people should see wildlife up close. But on the other, wildlife deserves to be free and, well, wild. For this zoo, though, I had no mixed feelings. It was one of the worst displays of animal treatment short of a slaughterhouse that I've ever seen. There were filthy, small cages with insufficient space to do anything other than move a few feet in one direction or another. There were two polar bears who were fenced off from each other and had so little room to swim that I couldn't see how they could possibly survive. Bears were one of the main attractions, it being Russia and all. They all looked absolutely miserable and unhealthy. This zoo, incidentally, existed right in the middle of the city as if a square block had one day simply been allocated for the display of animals. And one thing that was noticeably absent was any sort of sound coming from the inhabitants. It was as if they were just existing in front of our eyes but not really living. The whole thing reminded me of a touristy concentration camp, the kind where people wander around looking at the various inscriptions and pretty much keeping to themselves.

I had a couple of interesting experiences with some medium sized wildcats. At least two of them caught my eye and we locked gazes for up to five minutes at a time. This has happened with me quite a few times with domesticated cats but nobody here apparently had seen such a thing before. It's very hard to explain. I've been friends with a number of cats over the years and I've often felt a connection of sorts. Other people have told me similar stories. Mostly the sensation I get from them is curiosity. What I got today was overwhelming sadness. And I felt so helpless in return. All I can do is write about it and hope that someday in some way it'll have an effect and if there have to be zoos, that they are the kind where the animals might have a chance of believing they're in a natural environment. Of course, animals outside of zoos are treated like absolute shit too but there's only so much I can wrap my head around at a time.

I think this is the first day I felt a genuine bout of homesickness. Not feeling well, being so far away with so long to go, and being in a completely alien environment will have that effect. Not that I'm having any regrets. This is what I signed up for. And it's a real joy to be traveling with a couple of people who share in the adventure and appreciation of foreign cultures. Not to mention the fact that I have someone to speak English to besides my laptop. And the occasional SMS from home is always great.

Tonight we catch the late train out of Yekaterinburg which will truly be a Trans Siberian Express train. Of course, most of the people on it will have been part of the journey since Moscow so we'll be the new kids on the block. This will also be the longest single train ride of my life and of this whole Trans Siberian adventure. Not counting tonight, we will be on the train for two overnights before getting off at Irkutst. The ride before was a good prelude to this. And after we get past this stage, everything else will seem relatively simple in comparison.

And I also have a really big challenge in the hours ahead. Just how exactly *do* I do an edition of "Off The Hook" from a moving train somewhere in the middle of the wilds of Russia? GSM is a remote possibility. The satellite phone is a better one but I honestly don't see how I'll be able to hold onto a connection for longer than a few minutes at a time unless I have a continuous view of the sky from one of the windows or hang off the back of the train. I'm sure the folks in New York will carry on just fine but it sure would do my heart good to have a conversation with the radio audience back home.