There are two reasons for me to buy a book: I know something about it or it’s cheap and intriguing. “Amsterdam” was both cheap and I’ve heard that Ian McEwan got the Booker Prize, so I’ve bought it.
If you want a sad and dark feeling of human mortality to follow you for a long time while reading a book, Amsterdam is a fine choice. I couldn’t stop reading it, although everything in this book is about death. We follow two main heroes through the book’s plot starting from their common friend’s funeral. In real life or in a book, you start thinking about your own death and mortality regardless your age. You can be a kid or an adult, there is always someone you can lose in the nearest future or you’ve lost somebody already and that puts you in the position of reviewing your own life. What if that was you there, dead? Have you done enough? Is there anyone who feels that it’s enough of life for him?
You can think of mortality visiting your grandma from time to time, no book will raise those questions in you if you haven’t experienced the same (I guess, we all have). But “Amsterdam” is just a great detective with a couple unexpected plot twisters, as unrelatable as any detective about millionaires having human problems.
The most surprising travels I’ve had was a sudden out of nowhere trip to Norway. I’ve had an EU Visa opened since my trip to Italy and decided to get out of my system, somewhere I wouldn’t normally go but still close and cheap. The flight and stay were rather money savvy, so it worked out well for me. But here are some tips that I wish I knew before I go, or just something that surprised me (most of the times pleasantly).
1. The Norwegian language is unpronounceable. I try to learn basic words to say “Hello”, “How are you?”, “Where is the museum of arts?” usually, but this time I’ve quit after listening to “hyggelig å møte deg” (deg sounds like die). It’s “Nice to meet you”. I’ve managed to learn only “takke” — thank you.
2. Turns out there’s no need to know Norwegian to go to Norway. Everyone can speak the perfect English, keep up a conversation and give you directions. There was only one lady in a Thai food cafeteria who I couldn’t explain what I want to. All food names with pictures were written in Norwegian and I was just going down the list trying to pronounce ANYTHING in English or the way it was meant to be in Norwegian. I’m very bad at reading Norwegian, so I end up with an omelet of some sort.
3. There are tourist centers in Oslo and other popular cities. If you got lost or don’t know what to do — just head up there and get directions, recommendations or just recharge your phone. It’s free of charge as I know. Do that right away as you come to a city to plan your trip.
4. Returning back to the food topic: I was glad I got a pack of nuts and energy bars with me. Usually, I don’t even touch them but there were times I was starving in Oslo and there were no cheap food options on my way. By “cheap” I mean relatively cheaper than everything else. McDonald’s here is three times more expensive than anywhere else I’ve been. In other words, take snacks with you.
5. When I arrived in Oslo, there was a week-long music festival with a bunch of cafeterias at the lowest prices. I believe it was the best luck for me to find it, but Oslo looks like a busy place so there might be always something fun (free) going on with great Chinese food.
6. Restrooms or toilets whatever you call them, they are PAID. I keep getting those paid bathrooms flashbacks. I know, there are pros to make bathrooms commercial, although I ended up spending a lot of money to go to public bathrooms because I was outside all day long every day. And the price is not symbolic, like a change, 5 NOK, oh hell no, it was around 20 NOK. It’s 2-3 dollars or around 150 roubles. Look for free bathrooms in a shopping mall (not guaranteed), restaurants and at home. Go out with an empty bladder.
7. And that’s the main reason you need some actual physical money, not just your credit card. It’s also very handy to pay for your street food, but I’m pretty sure even local flea markets have credit card readers.
8. I know that Norway is a cold and brutal Scandinavian country and you have to be prepared to all kinds of nasty weather like rains or snow. Although I was there in August, I was suggested to bring some warm clothes just in case. It was actually chill and I’ve onioned myself up with a sweater, light jacket, and a hoodie while going on a train from Bergen back to Oslo. Most of the time my clothes were irrelevant. The weather was ridiculously good with sunshine and a little breeze for a week straight. Everyone in Norway I talked to was surprised by my “weather luck”. I’ve also brought an umbrella with me, never used it on that trip.
9. In the end of August in Norway, there is actual snow. It’s not snowing high up in mountains (Oslo – Bergen railroad), it’s just there.
10. Oslo – Bergen railroad is amazing! It’s just the best I’ve seen so far: the cheapest sitting coach sits have one table for four seats for day-time travel, very spacious. There is a place to charge phones, a little bar coach to grab a cup of coffee and snacks, bathrooms are free. For evening and night trains you’ll be offered a different coach with seats you could almost lie down, and a bag with a little blanket, pillow, eye mask, and earplugs.
11. If you decide to go with trains — good for you! But purchase all tickets well before the travel date, BUY THEM ONLINE AND WELL BEFORE. I’ve got mine a month in advance, it was a pretty good deal.
12. Choose the night coach: it’s empty and quiet, usually filled up with students who look for each other. I was sharing mine with a bunch of girls students coming from a hiking trip (how cool is that?). Also, it will save you hotel money.
13. Talk to people, Norwegians are so very friendly. I feel like Norwegian friendliness is almost like in the US, where you can have small talks with anyone and fulfil the social needs. But maybe it’s just a smaller community thing. There are 5 million people living in Norway, comparing to just Moscow with 15 million people! I’ve learned about it from locals by the way 🙂
So here we go, a little list of things to research before you go to Norway. My personal dream now is to live a couple months near some fjord, chill, hike and talk to locals all day. Awesome plan.
There is no way that Instagram creates a nice real-life view on things. I’ve had an account there for 5 years and unsubscribed from everything but a couple of my best friends and subscribed to everything important again, and again, I was doing my routine. I kinda like the Instagram idea: you post a picture that you like and in the best case scenario my Instagram feed is filled with beautiful places, flowers, pottery, drawings and, of course, people. Instead, I get a feed of the same smiling all-photoshopped faces of people who I know in real life and they usually don’t smile like that, with philosophical comments that they don’t say in real life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the deep thoughts that you’re having while taking pictures of your perfect shaped butt, but I feel disturbed by that.
And it’s not the fake smiling or even fake butts. But you get a slight feeling that everyone is getting their best shots by taking selfies on their ways to work or in a gym, or while drinking wine with friends. My selfies are terrible. I’m deeply and madly unsatisfied with my selfies: they don’t look good, I look tired, old, and I’m quickly getting overwhelmed with it, and after 3 shots I quit. On the other hand, there is an army of people taking quick shots everywhere, they are satisfied with their looks, their hair looks neat, and they sing songs to their perfect skin because of #nomakeup and #nofilter.
Honestly, I start to hate my face and body after that. There is not a single deep thought coming in my mind while I’m taking a picture of my new gorgeous lipstick, that I could post online. Here we are my new lipstick and my sophisticated personality! Nope. I’m having a raising feeling of hating my body, because it’s not toned enough, of my face because it’s not fresh and good shaped, of my hair that’s always a mess. I need some beauty in my feed but it’s quickly turning into a nightmare. I unsubscribe and start a new page on Instagram. “Here is my morning selfie with pillow-wrinkles and puffy eyes” — says no one on Instagram ever.
And it takes a lot of self-control to realize why would you hate your cheeks all of a sudden. Or eyelids, whatever they did wrong to you. I’m not doing same mistakes, no Insta-girls in my feed with highlighter and butts pictures (especially highlighted butts), no more. But somehow pics of cats, pugs, and my beloved friends are slowly turning into the Instagram classic with all the beautiful selfies and working out and lovely outfits. Can I do a “no self-hate” filter on my Instagram feed, please?
I’ve had the best time lately watching movies.
Usually, there is nothing to watch whatsoever. Nothing. You go to movies because you actually want to watch a decent thing, but you get a pack of couple “the world is dying from something and only this guy can save us” pictures, one cartoon at a time, one melodramatic “look how this couple struggles” and a very bad comedy about drunk people doing something nasty. You can enjoy it but eventually, it just feels that you watched that already. Actors are same, the plot is the same (the camera work is getting marvelous, so no complaints here). And I’m dying to see a life-affirming movie about people around me. Not about how bad it is to live here or there, and not about superheroes. I honestly need positive, humorous, thrilling movie from time to time. If you need that too, then look no more, here are two movies that you would love. 1. Knock.
The first one is about an attractive (“grande” and skin like ebonite) doctor with shady past who comes to an old-school village somewhere in France. People in the village are healthy, happy and they don’t need a doctor, or they just don’t think they do? Anyway, the young doctor convinces them to take greater care of health and falls in love with a young girl, too.
What I loved about this movie, is that it was 100% fun. I watched it with an original sound, in French with subtitles, but regardless I get the jokes, it’s easy hilarious and not shovelling-it-in-your-throat funny. Just to draw a picture: a wealthy lady with a face covered in whale grease, always drunk post officer finally gets a moto and breaks it while being finally sober, a couple that owns a local restaurant is having a morning side hustle together because no one goes to their restaurants in mornings anyway.
Each plot twist took me by surprise, I couldn’t guess it, and it also doesn’t have a strong evil antagonist who wants to ruin everything, but each character is believable and amusing.
2. Le Redoutable
I watched it first, actually, but it has a bit of tragedy in it and didn’t leave me with an optimistic aftertaste as the movie “Knock” did. Although, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. If you watch it in the original with subtitles, you might want to invest some time getting some of Godard’s puns, they are delightful.
The best shot in the entire movie is not shown even a little bit in its trailer, it’s (spoiler!) when Godard himself and his young wife are walking around their house naked and discussing on how modern cinema is showing naked people for no reason, not even for the plot. I’m pretty sure, that these movie producers were having so much fun.
If you watched some of Godard movies (and I’ve had that experience myself) you’ll see a bunch of art techniques from his old and popular movies. It almost feels like cracking up a puzzle, when each shot is a reference.
I happen to read about the student revolution in France, 1968 and adored how colorful and juicy it can be described. By the way, you might want to get a music playlist from the movie, it’s refreshing.
If you happen to know more positive and relaxing films just like those two, please, share!
One of the most popular stereotypes about Russian is that here we drink too much. And it’s not like “it’s too much for us and we know that”, but just more than anyone else, which makes it too much. To complete the picture a true Russian should drink cold vodka or anything as unpleasant and hard to drink for the rest of the world. If you lived in Russia, you would know that it’s not true, or not completely true, and a lot of people drink in moderate, and heavy drinkers happen to be the poorest people with health problems and etc. as no one on Earth can drink a lot and go away with that for a long period of time.
On Friday and Saturday bars and restaurants are filled with people having the time of their lives: they meet friends, they drink beer or wine, or the go for a couple of cocktails. It’s a regular deal with alcohol in a lot of places I’ve been to. Alcohol is locked into weekends. But not in Seoul.
My first evening in Korea was on Sunday and it wasn’t much surprise that people keep partying. They might regret it every Monday but keep doing it, who cares? But the next evening there was no fewer people drinking in local street cafes and tents, passing of late at night, and survivors were trying to catch the latest train. It was all week long, drinking never-ending party on Gangnam.
If you are in Seoul and you decided to join all those merry people, I recommend going to the Gangnam station. Have you seen Korean doramas with tents right on the streets with people in them drinking soju and eating hottest ramen? Well, that’s pretty accurate picture, I was amazed. If you passing by, notice how many empty soju boxes are stacked up outside of those tents and how many people are lying around them in biblical poses. Personally, I was in November, it’s pretty chill, but lying on a street is no one’s first choice.
You’ll see a lot of soju there: it has different packaging and flavors, can be very strong or extra mild, so it’s covering all alcohol section from hard liquor to cocktails and beers. One waitress recommended mixing sweet peach soju (which is awesome by the way) with a classic style soju. I didn’t do it, but I guess that makes it all taste better.
Another thing about soju is that it’s advertised by young and very cute actors, actress, and singers. Mostly good looking girls, the type you’ll never think that they drink at all.
Soju ads are everywhere, at least in places where you can buy it. Near the Gangnam station, there is a party street filled with those adorable ads and places where you can sit after a long work week and drink soju while eating something spicy. This tradition is almost brought up to the level of a national holiday, but the next day those streets will be dead and nasty.
I actually liked to see very drunk and tired Korean workers still in their suits trying to get a little consciousness before going home in the nearest opened store. Like a man in an aisle full of teapots and dishes in a brownish-grey suit trying to fix his attention on something.
There is something in a big city that moves my heart, and that’s maybe because I’m not living in one. My hometown is large, there are lots of people, buildings, traffic, and nightlights, but it makes a cozy impression of an old rustic town with wooden houses. It’s a real big rural city if it can exist.
A big city on a contrary is a bowl of light and glass with endless possibilities and places to explore, but people in it mainly go to work and back. They also eat and drink, but a big city makes a fantastic impression on me. That was the case with my trip to Seoul. It lives, drives and shines, and speaks many languages, yet feels very safe and welcoming.
I was having no expectations on my way there. On the one hand, a plane ticket is pretty expensive if you don’t buy it in advance (at least from Moscow), on the other hand, everything else is a piece of cake. I didn’t need a visa, and as it turned out, there are no strict customs. Plenty of options for staying, I’ve chosen Airbnb housing to play a “local game”: go for groceries, talk to strangers, who usually don’t even speak English. Food is delicious, subway is working until late evening, shopping for souvenirs is not expensive.
About English, almost everything is duplicated in English. Also in Chinese and Japanese. So basically, while you’re waiting for an English announcement forever, you can play a fun game guessing what language is on now. Unless you know all of them, then good for you! A funny thing about Korean pronunciation and transcription of names and places, they are nothing alike. Whenever you ask for a direction, just write the name down, no one is ever going to guess what you’re talking about. I was trying my best to pronounce “Myeong-dong” dozen times after listening how local pronounce it on my way there, and I’ve failed. It was a bravely lost fight against Korean pronounce, which is beautiful, but mysterious.
Speaking of Myeong-dong, it was my go-to place. You’ll definitely like it if you either like local food, challenging ice cream, or makeup and fashion. It also feels like every tourist in the city is coming to Myeong-dong at once, so it’s crowdy, the street is at the top of its capacity, one more tourist and the street bursts. The street is pedestrian, and once in while a police car is trying to squeeze through this human massive as in the very middle of Myeong-dong there is a cute little police station and it needs his car.
I would gladly go again and wonder through the busiest touristy places in Seoul, there is so much to explore.
Or they actually do sometimes, but not in my experience.
Recently, I’ve started to watch Outlander: a wonderful series about a woman who fell down in time from 20th century tight in the middle of 18th and in a war between Scott and Englishmen. They’ve just released a couple series from the third season when I was so attracted by its poster, that I’ve started to watch it from the very beginning.
I’ve watched 6 or 7 episodes so far, and I sympathize Claire, the main character who is in her late 20s (I guess), but mainly it’s not Claire who I watch it for, it’s the Scottish culture and all the languages they speak during the series. Later I’ve come along with a trailer for the 3rd season, where Claire is supposed to be at least 50 years old. She was a young woman and got married, but then there was the Second World War, during that she was a nurse, and after the war she got back with her husband and then there was the fall шт time and a whole bunch of adventures after that, long story short, she obviously got back, had a child, raised her and bam: she looks just the same. Okay, she changed her hairstyle once and started using makeup, but couldn’t someone just make her look a little older than 30 years old for this time?
There are women who can do some magic tricks and look 10 years younger. And I’m not trying to say people can’t look good in their 50s, but they don’t look exactly the same. Face shape, eyes, neck, arms: all of that just shows your experience and thus age.
I’ve started to think about it after watching another movie: The World According to Garp. It has one thing in common with Outlander, and it’s “never getting old” look. Garp himself looks 30 when he’s supposed to look 17, and he doesn’t change over the time, as well as his mother, Jenny, she never gets old either. A couple wrinkles near their eyes and a new hairstyle — done.
And here how does his mother, Jenny looks through the movie.
We see her in her mid-20s first when she had a baby and left home. She’s going to wear that dress for entire life, but this ridiculous detail looks just playful and not a little silly. I see her as the main character, a person of habit.
Then she raises up Garp till high school, she’s very concerned about her son’s sexual maturity and acts creepy, but you can see a couple wrinkles in the corner of her eyes.
While Garp is dealing with grown-up life and family of his own, Jenny has the best time of her life: she’s popular and busy. It has been 30 years a least since the first time we saw her. Jenny got a wig, but no new outfits.
I know, you can’t really use different actors for different age, but while Luc Besson invites a bunch of aliens in his movies, people here look embalmed and unbelievably static.
When I see a character “30 years after” who didn’t even gain an extra pound or changed the face shape a little or get neck wrinkles or extra scar, I completely stop believing the story. During my 20s I’ve changed more, really, than they’ve changed during their adult lives?
For a living, I work with clients in an IT company. After a couple years I was honored to teach newcomers in our department and eventually started to take part in their job interviews. I’ve read a fair amount of CVs and talked to many different people while looking for a new colleague, and to be honest I liked it. Getting to know new people is the most fun and unpredictable, I still remember the most amusing things people say on their interviews.
Just for the record, we didn’t look for someone with a particular set of skills or work experience, but rather a certain personality.
1. Do you like sports? – Yes, I do fitness all the time.
Fitness is cool, but it’s no sport. It’s not like you’re going to the Olympics for squats or push-ups. When I was asking about sports I was looking for answers like “I like jogging” or “I watch football on Sundays” or even “No, I don’t do sports”. Well, “I do fitness” is alright, I do it too, but I can’t talk about fitness, it’s oddly boring, who would want to talk about it voluntarily? 2. What’s your hobby? – Umm, reading.
Nah, you’ve not read in the last two months. Nicely polished answer that should work for everybody is fine, they don’t bother me, but don’t you really have something to say? Like comics collecting or online games or nail polishing terribly often? It feels like there is a list of socially acceptable hobbies, which include reading (also drawing, dancing and that’s it) and if you don’t find anything you can do, you could always use reading. At least you can physically read books, if not dance or draw anything decent. Here are some ideas for you: – doing crazy hairstyles – browsing random facts in Wikipedia – learning more about wine to become a sommelier – trying to build one proper car from two old rusty recks – joining all prize-winning contests available
And all above is real. 3. How much are you expecting to earn? – Just enough to buy a Porsche
Oh please, you’re 21 and just graduated, but that’s no Porsche that’s disturbing me here. It’s the number people are looking for you, and actual one that you need for living. Personally, I think it’s okay not to know how much your time costs when you’ve just graduated a college and you don’t have any loans to pay or children to raise. If you want a fancy car, just share your plan in more numbers: years, prices, whatever. I know it was a joke about Porsche, but who makes jokes about money now? 4. We want you to take a test… – I thought that talking to you was a test already!
That’s just lovely, but we were only chatting. Here comes the real stuff. Do everybody stress out on their interviews? 5. Do you have like a Facebook account? – No, I’ve deleted it… It’s a long story.
But damn this is an intriguing turn of events! I would not recommend it to get a job but to win someone’s attention, oh, yes. The guy who said that in an interview was very serious, it wasn’t a joke, he didn’t have any social media account he could show and he was a freshman, too. There was nothing more than his education and intriguing personality. 6. Do you like to party? – Oh, no, not at all, no, I’m not. (No!)
I’m working in a pretty large company, where office parties are a big part of corporate culture. When you join to celebrate traditional and new holidays, birthdays, good sales results — it’s great, it’s bounding, inspiring and you get to know everyone. Whenever you get to work with an engineer, you already know that he likes cold beer, playing guitar and fishing on Sundays. But freshmen instinctively feel that there is no good can come from loving parties and mixing them with work. They’re actually right in a way, but our HR is honestly expecting a different answer every time.
I have more of unexpected things you hear in an interview, and not of them are delightful and funny.
Have you watched the new iPhone presentation this year? Do you watch it every year?
I used to be very far away from a world of new technologies: it’s too expensive to be admired with. But whenever I read news about a new step of sending people to Mars, it makes my heart beat a little faster. It feels real and very important, that some people will be able to live on Mars and watch the tiny blue planet Earth from there. It magically makes me forget that we’re all mortal, but people don’t go to Mars or the moon at once. Small steps like new type of camera on your phone, new and faster laptop, better things that you buy and stimulate all the scientists and brightest minds on earth to actually advance technologies until we eventually just go to Mars on vacation.
To be honest, I don’t keep up with iPhone news, but I can’t escape it too, neither I want to. It’s just in the air now: I don’t watch it in the evening, but the next morning all my coworkers chat about new color or new button, or whatever is new this year.
Just to think about, my life personally became so much easier now. I don’t carry a camera on my journeys. Frankly speaking, I’m rather a mediocre photographer and can’t handle anything more difficult than an app. I don’t have maps and still can find my way. I don’t own a dictionary anymore and connect with people more than ever. A little phone with a slim silver laptop replace so much and giving me more free space at home.
Do you still remember or even own a personal computer with a big screen, keyboard, and a mouse? Mine was taking up a dedicated computer table. It was collecting dust somehow better than anything else. And those black nets of wires, they were running down from my table to the floor and then connecting different corners of my room together. Those black thick wires were everywhere, they were always on my way and my cat ended up chewing them up. Nothing could give me more joy than removing those balled up nets of wires from my home and life.
Every news article or cast about technologies makes me crazy optimistic and motivated. Future is here, you don’t need to wait for it. It’s here to make your life better, easier, to make your kids healthier and your parents live longer. It’s all about small steps like these.
I rarely read books twice or more, and it happens usually when I just don’t get the meaning or it leaves me a weird impression, like Ulysses by James Joyce. There are some books that I just keep reading over and over hoping to get the same feeling as I’ve had the first time reading them. Here is the list of five books that came to my mind and I’d love to read them again. 5. The catcher in the rye
I’ve read it in the perfect time of my life in high school, it’s the best age when you resonate with the main character of the book — Holden. He has a bunch of problems the typical troubled teen would have, and you believe him so much. At the same time, as a reader, you can see the entire plot from the outside, and that’s important skill to have in your 15s. I kept reading it over and over later but it never gave me that feeling anymore: that I’ve got a troubled friend who needs my help. Later on, when I was advertising the book to my actual friends, they didn’t find it as wonderful and resonating as I did in my high school. 4. Jane Eyre
Oh, that’s typical. It’s so widely known and everyone seems to love it, but that’s how wonderful the book is. It does not only have a thrilling plot but also easy to read a second time, it’s just as catchy. In my college years, I’ve found a copy of Jane Eyre in a secondhand bookstore. It’s in English but published in Moscow at 1952. The pages are almost burnt brown from time, its cover is a kind of dusty peach, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the color that was meant originally. It wasn’t a library copy, as there were tiny pieces of paper with words and translations on them. I guess I just had a romantic feeling about this particular copy of the novel.
3. Waiting for Godot
I was completely swept off my feet by the book. It’s nothing special actually when you read it, it draws a very simple image in your head, there are minimal to no details on anything (because it’s actually a play). But when you’re done, it just doesn’t let you go on with your life. I’ve kept playing it in my head over and over again filling it with new meanings. If you haven’t read it, the plot is plain: Didi and Gogo are talking to each other and, guess what, waiting for a person named Godot. A little spoiler, Godot never comes. You can imagine Godot as death or God, or both at the same time or neither. It has very little action and details, but each of them you can use to build your own perception of the play, as there is nothing much else you can do. Thus it’s very relatable in any situation so I recommend to read it.
2. The short stories by Anton Chekhov
The good part about the short stories by Anton Chekhov is that you can read them at any age. When I was little I had a book by Chekhov in my parents’ library and it was simple enough to read and understand it. It’s a comedy in a way, but you get the tragical part of it only when you actually face life as a grown up. The stories are short, Anton Chekhov was a fan of minimalist structures and transparent ideas. Each story reveals a political or cultural issue, that not necessarily requires a change. It’s not a journalist article after all, but just a part of life you’ve never thought about but you’d better give it a thought.
1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
And we came to my absolute favorite. The only thing I regret about reading this book is that I can’t forget and read it again. There is no needless sentence, no extra thought, everything seems to work together, not even work but march or dance. It gave me so many levels of feeling and empathy for the main character, that no other book did before. I was worrying, I was literally crying sometimes, I couldn’t eat or sleep. It feels like drinking purely distilled story and I wish I could read another book just like that from Donna Tartt in this decade.
What’s your top book that you can read over and over?