Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saint Petersburg Part 2 ( Winter at -20 degree celcius)

If you do visit Russia one day, basic knowledge of Cyrillic alphabet is helpful; at least it helps you to figure out where you have landed yourself. Not all directional signs come with English. This is one of the metro station of Saint Petersburg.

Seeking refuge in a Lithuanian restaurant for warmth, for tea and mousse and some brightness in a darkening day at 4.00 pm.

Wires of neon-lights outside the restaurant are not spared from the cold weather, see how huge the icicles weighed and clung stubbornly on it.

A map of Lithuania on the table, and I saw my temporary resident-city Kaliningrad tuck between the European states of Poland and Lithuania. How happy I was to even see its name!

A Lithuanian tea-cup with open surface as big as the size of my face! I could practically use it as a mirror!

Disproportionately bigger than the typically bossy teapot , the tea-cup seems to be complacently stealing all attention.

Almost being dragged out from the warm bed to "experience real Russian winter", I found the tranquil but wide Neva River completely frozen and the whole city was seized by incessant snowfall, freezing but sublimely beautiful.

A walk along the river is part of Peterburgians' everyday life. The purplish-red sky to me is a magically rare sight, and I relished it.

Beauty of winterly weather aside, reality presents itself by causing inconvenience and even possible risks, workers are hired periodically to clean up overwhelming amount of snow from the roof-stop, walkway is then cordoned to facilitate work.

More pictures along the Neva river, everything came to a standstill, except for chimneys choking steam into the sky, and my smile in the pictures, which is almost a fixture.

A hauntingly forlorn sight, I will never forget this. Jetty waiting for no one, no boats in need of it.

Part of everyday life, along the walkways, outside anyone's home.

If you are a car-owner, good luck. The drivers here often lament the first ten minutes stuck inside with frozen hands trying in vain to start its engine.

Typical side streets in Saint Petersburg.

A courtyard in a residential complex, perhaps the car-owners have all imigrated like flocks to the south?

Crystal Palace, albeit a reluctant one - icicles on buildings often pose danger to pedestrians, walk at your own risk!

This is yet another backlog . Last month I landed in St Petersburg again before I came back to Kaliningrad. It was minus 20 degree celcius there. Difference of 50 degree celcius from home.

Arriving at the airport of Moscow for transit to Saint Petersburg, I couldn't wait to put on all necessary winter clothes to ease my overweight luggage. However I left my fur-clad winter boots resting in my checked-in suitcase until I desperately need it when I step out on the streets at my next destination. When I landed at Saint Petersburg, already in the plane before we stepped out to board the connecting bus to the terminal, people were busily putting on their bear-like but beautiful, gigantic fur coats, hats and leather gloves. They did it with such prewar-like grimness on their faces, and I certainly did the same before we were plunged into the cold again.

Within the airport complex, a motherly airport staff while scanning my suitcases almost screeched in amazement, but mostly out of concern that I was only wearing a pair of flats without socks on my feet! I was fairly amused by her reaction but it seemed like I was the one being too abnormal not to be noticed. I had to explain to her where I came from and pointed to the suitcase as my source of salvation. How relieved her face turned!

What does it feel like to be in such weather? Walking on the streets, I wore four layers of what - not but I was still freezing. Even when stopping at the traffic light for a while, I realised my teeth were clattering uncontrollably. I wished I have one of those fur coats that Russian women were wearing!

On the streets, the snow carpeted not only the streets, frozen up the river but also covered many parked cars along the roads. Roofs of buildings were lined with crystallic icicles, which are good to see but risky to expose yourself under. At carparks, you can always see side mirrors of cars sticking out from the thick snow defiantly, as if like two protruding and anxious ears of a man's face.

However when you are in the flat, you could just wear a pair of slacks and T-shirt. How amazing the central heating system is!

My brief encounter with -20 degrees celcius was followed by equally cold weather in Kaliningrad, but only for a few days. On those days, even my flat was no longer a sanctuary from outside. That's because being a much much bigger flat, I realised central heating system could no longer keep me sufficiently warm, partly thanks to the untimely broke down of a portable heater that my local friend Boris lent me. I also no longer hung my clothes in the balcony as I did not allow any openings at all in my flat, not even for while.

Finally I took my landlday's advice and slept in the study room. Too weak to move the bulky sofa-bed, even though I did try, from my bedroom, I ended up stacking all individual sofa cushions I could find to form my temporary but comfortable bed on the floor. I survived the few dreary days, and even had a girl friend to come sleep-over. Goodbye, harsh winter!

I often think about such living conditions - to some it is even to the point of suffering - that is so different from where I came from, about how it shaped people's behaviour, mould their values in life, and even alter their collective destinies along the timeline of human existence.While I lack the proficiency to articulate in philosophical terms, I do feel strongly differences do exist.

First of all, season changes sharpen one's sensitivity towards the environment, the beauty of nature, down to the minute transformation of the flora which may explain the catalyst that inspired voluminous amount of literary works. Blessed with all-year-round sunny season, I must admit that I am numb to the flowers that grin brightly to me everyday. By and large, we take the nature for granted and simply not notice it, except for a handful of nature activists.

When the temperature fell to -20 degree celcius, I wondered what am I dependent on for survival. What will happen if there is a strike, no buses work on the road, or even taxis? What if the central heating system breaks down? What if there's a fire, we need to vacate the flat or university, where could we seek help? There are some basic conditions to be met in such harsh weather, interdependence among people became more critical, a matter of survival.

I was often asked if I miss Singapore's weather, not at all if you ask me. But it is home afterall, no matter sweat and toil, sweetness or bitterness, it is home afterall.


  1. don't you miss home?

  2. i could feel the cold through your pictures.

  3. Lovely post, LS.
    Sounds like an adventure, albeit a freezing cold one.
    Keep writing pls.
    And stay warm!