On our way home from work, our bus trudges over the snow covered bridge across the Neva River, St. Petersburg’s main waterway.  Looking quite different from the swiftly rushing river it was just days ago, the water is now at a complete standstill, jutting up in frozen ridges across the bumpy surface.  

A member of our security team told me the other day that we are lucky we’re visiting during the off season because when the river is thawed, the bridges are only kept down for a certain amount of time during the day, allowing for the passage of large barges.  Yes, it would be difficult to get around, but I think I might take a chance on the inconvenience for a slightly higher temperature. 

Earlier in the day, while shivering away at our ice rink of a venue (literally an ice rink), my friend Adrian and I agreed to have a Christmasy evening in our hotel room that night, complete with festive drinks to warm us up.  While in China I invented a great throat-warming cocktail I like to call “super spicy spiced tea,” which is basically my mom’s homemade spiced tea blended with a little (or a lot) of rum.  The amount of alcohol added depends on the degree of chilliness of your locale.  The temp in St. Petersburg today was all of 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  I think I better head to the liquor store for reinforcements. 

After adding on a few more layers of clothing back at the hotel, I grab the guy on our cast with the biggest biceps, Kevin, and take him along with me to the store.  We pass at least a dozen people walking their dogs in furs and warm woolies despite the bitter cold.  Man, these people are hard-core!  I wonder if their blood flows at a balmy 65 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the scorching 98 degrees the rest of us run on.  Or maybe, they’re all vampires with shimmery skin.

Once we’re in the store, I head straight to the deli.  Yes, yes, I know I’m on a rum mission, but who can drink on an empty stomach.  Besides, once everyone got wind that I was off to the store, I soon had a list longer than Santy’s off things to pick up.  Steven had said the premade food in the deli was pretty scrumptious, but by now the good stuff had been snatched by earlier customers, now all that remained was a greasy piece of chicken (or pork or steak, can’t be sure) covered in oily cheese.  If that wasn’t enough to turn me off, the large lady behind the counter looked like she could flatten me with one swat of the spatula that she wielded, and the expression on her face told me she would most likely do so if I asked anything at all, and most certainly if I asked in English. 

Kevin was planning on stopping at the Chinese restaurant near the hotel on our walk back.  After four months in China, I could definitely go for some Chinese while I’m in Russia.  Maybe I’ll have better luck in the liquor isle. 

I scan the shelf of colorful bottles pretending that I can actually read the labels, until a kind looking employee unknowingly stumbles into my web of confusion. 

“Prestige.  Do you speak any English?”

“Little bit.”

“I’m looking for some rum.”

“Uhhhh.”  Oh boy, this should be fun. 

“Ummm….Captain Morgan???”


I now proceed to cover one eye with my hand and do an awkward pirate jig.  He’s laughing now, but I think he gets it.  Still chuckling, he leads me to another shelf.  Baileys, Johnny Walker, Bacardi…words I recognize!  Oh my, is that the price.  No wonder they’re over here in the locked display case instead of hanging out with the vodkas on the other shelf.  Cheap wine it is!  Warms the body just the same. 

I find Kevin waiting on the other side of the checkout, and scurry to the counter, not wanting my bodyguard to leave without me.  As the cashier rings up my total, the rum dude from earlier saunters up to the checkout, says something in Russian, and does a pathetic reenactment of my pirate jig for the cashier. 

“Captain Morgan,” he calls me as they both explode in a fit of laughter.  Great, I now have a nickname at the local grocery store. 

Once we’re back outside, Kevin tears into the Styrofoam tray package he bought containing a mysteriously grey slab of pork. 

“I found this for like a dollar,” he says as he offers me a bite.  At first it’s not too bad, kinda like meatloaf, but the aftertaste definitely turns on you. 

“Huh, it tastes a bit like puke, eh,” he says after a while.  “Well, at least it was only a dollar.  Let’s go get some Chinese.”

The Chinese restaurant is decorated borderline obnoxiously with Christmas lights.  There is also a fake Christmas tree with a large bow on top that is just the perfect size for a hotel room.  You think they’d notice if I walked out of here with that?

Christmas trees aren’t on the menu, but we’ve heard from other people we work with that have come here they do have delicious dumplings.  We’re having a hard time finding those on the menu either, though.  But fortunately, a few electricians from our company are seated a few tables away.  We bombard them just as they’re about to leave and ask what names belong to the dishes on their table.  They offer us a taste, and soon we’re pulling up chairs and sifting through their leftovers like alley cats scavenging through dumpsters. 

Feeling that we now can make informed decisions, we place our take away orders and chat with the guys while we wait for it to come out.   When it does, we stuff our backpacks and bundle up again for the short walk to the hotel.  We climb the dozens of steps leading to the front door, as three or four babies (who in their snowsuits look more like gingerbread men) play in the newly fallen snow. 

Once I’ve made my deliveries to those I’ve bought food for, I head back to my room, and enjoy my kung pow chicken, fried rice and pork dumplings in style while watching Anastasia with my friends.