Monday, August 16, 2010

Magadan adventures

Since arriving in Magadan, I spent a few days recuperating in the hotel, chatting with miners as previously mentioned, and compiling a list of Russian swear words. Many other Russians had declined to teach me any, saying I would learn more than enough in Magadan, but until the crash I had heard none. The crash afforded an excellent opportunity to hear them used in context and with the correct inflection. 

I got on the couchsurfing horn and found a few locals to hang out with. One couple (Anna and husband) were very keen to show me around, and drove me to the beach, the Mask of Sorrow, and many other places. Anna's mother is part of Rotary, and they have often had American exchange students, which explains why Anna's English is so good! At one point Anna's cousin drove us to a local beach. As we passed the police post we saw dozens of cars with illegally tinted windows waiting for one to make the sacrifice and cop a $20 'straf' or fine, so the others could then herd past. We swapped drivers, because the cousin didn't have his license. I thought maybe it would be a problem, because Anna's husband is a police officer, but quite the opposite. Russia! Also, Anna's cousin described several intrusions by bears at their dacha! The beach was framed between steep rocks and cliffs and leaden autumnal skies and was suitably spectacular!

Speaking of bears, the Russian word is Medved (as in the president). Medved, I discovered today, comes from the word myod (meaning honey) and an old word for 'to know', 'vedit' (as in the Sanskrit). Cool huh?

Anna's husband also followed up some details of the crash, finding that the car was a 1996-1998 model Hilux (but new looking!) that had recently been sold. This is pretty much a dead end as far as getting an official police report and insurance, but fortunately my costs were very low. 

I investigated visiting the Magadan Zapovednik, or nature reserve a few 10s of km from Magadan, most easily accessible by boat. This nature reserve is mainly a marine reserve centered around some stupendous rock stacks (similar in a way to the 12 (7.5?) apostles in Victoria) with bajillions of nesting sea birds and so on. I heard today that recently an unlicensed Brazilian scientist was found adrift out there missing socks, so I think the chance of hitchhiking out there tomorrow is pretty slim. If I come back next decade in a helicopter, I'll visit the Zapovednik, Jack London Lake, and the Pole of Cold, amongst other interesting things I know of hidden in the Taiga.

This evening, following a stupendous lunch celebrating Anna's grandmother's 85th birthday, we visited a local banya, which was inspirational. In the meantime I organised a home stay with another couchsurfer, Elena and her boyfriend Sergei, who just got back from a 25 day trip to Turkey and Scandinavia, and have just the right amount of jetlag to stay up all night playing games on their xbox or playstation. They also have a large number of very nerdy friends who visit to play guitar hero (though encouragingly, not very well), oggle pictures of a cleanroom I worked in a few years ago, and provide interesting conversation. One tennet of the conversation is the similarities between Magadan and Australia, as both started life essentially as very remote prisons of a colonial power. In Magadan's case, however, it was built by intellectual exiles. Many millions died in camps in Kolyma, but enough survived to give the city interesting architecture (some of it built by Japanese POWs) and flavour. In many ways the most remote power here is Moscow - China, Japan, Australia, US are all closer. Later this evening 4 guys joined Elena, Sergei, and I to watch Japanese anime, but had to spend about 25 minutes (longer than the anime itself) syncing the Russian subtitles on a transparent window on a remote screen - transcendent nerdiness the hard way! I have never felt more at home.

I've also been steadily patching holes in my jeans (about half as fast as they appear), and spending an hour or two each day at the music college attempting to bring Godowsky's transcription of Chopin's revolutionary etude under control. Words cannot describe how relieved I was to find my piano abilities (already and perpetually at dangerously low ebb) undiminished by the crash! Another peculiarity of Magadan is that although the local airport (only 50kms away) services most local airports, including Anchorage from time to time, the cheapest flights are to Moscow, due to competition.

I was dismayed to realise I'd left one small detail out of my description of the crash. As I started in the front passenger seat and finished upside down (with respect to the car) in the opposite side back seat, I performed personally the coordinate inversion (x,y,z)->(-x,-y,-z), thus underscoring the validity of Hamiltonian Dynamics in this particular instance.

Finally, two days ago I walked to the base of the TV tower at the top of the hill and the end of Lenina Ulitsa. There is a view down the road maybe 5km, however the road continues unbroken nearly 1700km past the port of Khandyga to the bank of the Aldan River, making it probably the longest main street of any town in the world!

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