Trip Report by Robert
Robert’s Trip story as originally posted on “The Russian Meeting Place”.
Robert came to Kiev in September 2004 and met his lovely wife Olga. The Russian Meeting place is a great information webs site and forum operated by Lena and Khashyar of California.
Kiev, Ukraine - "My Trip Report"
Day –2Work was challenging. Work always was challenging, but today seemed a bit different. After all, I can think of only two things… my upcoming trip and the last day of my contract with this client. My last day with my client was August 26th. This is also my birthday. And this was also the day before I left for Kiev. All good things as far as I was concerned.I had frantically purchased things I thought I would need for this trip. A pair of Sperry Top Siders proved to be one of the best purchases I’ve made. Supremely comfortable and easy to slip-on and slip-off on the airplane. I can’t recommend them enough for people taking a long flight. I also burned many of my favorite television programs from my TiVo to DVD. Plenty of television to watch on those quiet nights I thought…I had written to some women when I knew for sure that I would travel to Kiev. Of those women, the only serious prospect came from a woman in Mariupol. In honor or Stoichman’s naming convention, we’ll call her E1. E1 seemed pretty interesting to me, but as we approached the day that I would travel to Kiev, she started writing things that made me a bit suspicious… things such as bringing her agency’s translator along on the 14 hour trip from Mariupol to Kiev. That she would tour Kiev while I overcame my jet lag… all things that made me uncomfortable. I had experienced a scam in the past where a woman (we’ll call her A1) traveled to Prague to meet me, but brought along her “brother.” It turned-out to be a free vacation for her and her “brother” (who I suspected to be her boyfriend) and I am a bit cautious about having this repeated again.I worked with another agency called Kiev Connections. I have yet to speak to the American owner, Brett Ousley, but I intend to when I arrive in Kiev. I had selected some women that I thought I would like to meet from their profiles. Of the 10 I selected, 3 agreed to meet with me. I selected another 2 women and both agreed to meet with me. The agency prefers to have 5 women that agree to meet with me. They feel 5 is the magic number to help ensure a success. I have no such visions of grandeur, but I though that my prior practice of writing-to-one, visiting-one had only met with 33% success rate, and that 33% proved to have a painful ending wrought with a lot of self-doubt and self-realizations. I miss O1 immensely, but ultimately I’ve realized that I left her no choice.Day -1I’m panicking. I’ve yet to complete packing and the perfectionist in me has me working long hours to ensure that I successfully transfer my duties. That’s one of my failings… that I hold myself to a higher standard than does anyone else. And although I’ve promised myself that I would leave work at 1:00 PM (and have only charged for a half-day), I work until 4:00 o’clock. A bit of running around and panic-packing and I was 90% packed and asleep on the couch at 4:00 AM. Unfortunately I was due at the airport at 7:00 AM for a 10:05 AM flight.Day 0Travel day. I don’t have much to say this day other than I’ve just spent about 18 hours traveling. I’ve arrived in Kiev and all I could do was sleep for 13 hours. At least I planned this appropriately and scheduled nothing for today.
Day 1 - Sunday
Day 1 – Sunday, August 29, 2004I woke this morning at 8:00 AM Kiev Time. I surprised even myself because I expected to have much more jet lag. But the 13 hours of sleep last night really helped to get me back in gear in the local time.I have one date scheduled for tonight. She’s V1 and I know very little about her. I got the apartment to connect me to their broadband internet so I could review her profile again. I’m sure it will be an interesting meeting. I know very little about her other than she’s 29 years old, divorced with no children and working as an attorney. I wonder what she knows about me? Either way, she has unwittingly become my guinea pig in this dating style. I suppose reciprocity could be the mode of operations since I might be her first foray into this dating style as well. I guess I’ll find-out tonight. We have a date at 7:00 PM. And I have no clue what we’ll do. Since it’s a first date, I suppose we’ll just go to dinner. I feel like a neophyte on the dating scene! It’s almost like high school all over again!I am planning to arrive at the agency early… probably around 6:15 or 6:30. I’d like to meet the interpreter a little early so we can establish a rapport first. And, of course, I want to speak with the staff of Kiev Connections so I might understand their operations. I little “insight” into the other women I’ll meet will be very helpful also.Well… 8:30 in the evening in Kiev and I’m back in my flat with a Heineken on the floor next to me and a pizza on the way. V1 was a no-show and my interpreter (along with the staff at Kiev Connections) were unhappy because V1 hadn’t called to cancel or warn that she would be late. I felt badly that Tanya (my interpreter) had wasted some of her evening. But she felt badly for me. After years and thousands-of-dollars in therapy, I can honestly say, “It was her loss.” A bit conceited? Perhaps. But I know I’m a decent guy and she won’t have the opportunity to see for herself.I met-up with an Englishman in the office at Kiev Connections. Nice enough fellow, but I think he was a bit upset that his date couldn’t understand any English at all. To be quite honest, I had a bit of difficulty understanding his accent as well, but I suppose I have an “American” accent and it might have been equally as difficult for him to understand my vocal patterns as well. As it turns out, I have three dates on Monday that Tanya had arranged. I will have a date at 11:00 AM with O1, 3:00 PM with I1 and 7:00 PM with S1. Wow… I don’t think I’ve EVER dated three women in the same day before! I’m sure I’ll be a bit exhausted at the end of the day and I hope I don’t show any exhaustion towards the end of the day. Honestly, I1 was my first choice going into this little adventure. V1 was my second favorite. Now that V1 is declared a “no-show”, I can cleanly focus on these three women for the duration of my stay. Both I1 and S1 are fluent English speakers and no translator is required. O1 requires translation but that’s hardly a bad thing. Tanya (my translator) is quite stunning and very personable. It’s hardly a penalty at all to spend some time with her.OK… I’m watching a bit of television now on British televsion. They have 4 vintage Ford GT-40s racing side-by-side and it’s caught my attention. I absolutely love the GT-40 and it’s current day variant, the Ford GT. Sadly I can’t afford either version. But I can dream. I’ll also watch some programs that I recorded off my TiVo onto DVD as I wait for my pizza. And afterwards, I might play a little “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” on my laptop. I can’t let this quiet evening slip away! I plan to have a little fun that I couldn’t have when I was working my tail off.
Day 2 - Monday
Day 2 – Monday, August 30, 2004I woke today in a bit of a panic. After all, who has 3 first dates in one day? I realize that I might expect one (or possibly all) of the women to be “no-shows” after the V1 incident last night. Instead, I sampled Kiev’s version of the “Hawaiian Pizza.” I had no idea that Hawaiian pizza should have TONS of garlic on it and feta cheese. Wow… I’m glad I didn’t order this pizza on a date! But it’s tasty none-the-less.I was considering trying to find a gym or to go for a walk this morning prior to my first date, but after descending and ascending the 6 flights of stairs twice, I think I have my cardiovascular excersize complete for this morning. I had my favorite driver from Sherborne Hotel drive me to the flower store to buy 3 roses (one for each lady.) Then we arrived at Kiev Connections with plenty of time to spare. Kiev Connections was closed, but would open at 11:00 AM… exactly the time of my first date. I decided to wait inside the building where I saw spray painted on the side of the interior wall, “South Park Crew.” I see the finest of American Couture isn’t spared anywhere in the world! (“Oh my God, they killed Kenny! The Bastards!”)Kiev Connections is owned and operated by ex-patriot Brett Ousley from Atlanta, Georgia. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I enjoyed speaking with him later in the day. The staff at Kiev Connections were also very friendly and I enjoyed spending a little time in their office. But more on that later.My interpreter arrived shortly after I did and my first date arrived shortly thereafter. O1 was a bit taller than I had expected. I guess in her profile, she was supposed to be 5’8” but in person, she turned-out to be 5’10” Luckily she wasn’t wearing any heels so we were about the same height. (I’m 5’10.5”) As it turns out, she is the shortest in her family, with her older brother Andre at 184 centimeters (6’2.5”) and her father at 182 centimeters (6’1.75”) Wow, if things work-out with O1, I’ll be among the shortest in her family. Yikes! Well, I’m putting the cart before the horse…We went to a nice cafй nearby and had a nice conversation. O1 hadn’t had breakfast, nor had I… so we decided to eat. Tanya, our translator, had Tirimisu and tea. It was a good meeting and we had a lot of fun. It was really easy to be myself and laugh a lot. Of course, without Tanya it would have been a bit more stressful. But O1 turned-out to be very easy going and appreciates family very much. Of course, I was a bit caught off-guard when she first said that she wanted 6 children. But that was when she was younger and now she simply wants 3 children. At least 3 is an easier negotiating point than 6! (I think 3 is OK, but I’d prefer just 2. Any more than 2 relegates me into “Family Truckster” status.) I also asked O1 about our age difference. She laughed and thought it was a non-issue. She’s 21 years old and I told her that I was a bit uncomfortable at first… but when I saw that she was much more mature than I expected, I was a bit relieved. I even told O1 that I could have been her baby sitter! I was 16 years old when she was born! Again… not an issue in her mind. I was glad to hear it because I really liked O1. Our time came and went very quickly, and O1 needed to go to her class. She’s studying to be a doctor specializing in identifying illnesses. I didn’t want to stand in the way of the public good, so I made another date for Tuesday at 11:00 AM (her day off) and agreed to meet at the agency once again.I had a little time between dates, so I ended-up speaking with agency owner Brett Ousley for a bit. We chatted about the huge ex-pat community in Kiev and how the lifestyle in Kiev is actually quite good. I agree… I saw the underground mall in the city square and it rivals any mall in Los Angeles that I’ve seen. It was well lit, clean, bright and had all the latest fashion and stores. I forgot that I was in Kiev when I was in the mall. I also saw Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev. It’s absolutely stunning and it makes you realize the significance of religion in this city throughout its history. I decided to return to the agency with about 15 minutes to spare and my 2nd date was already there. I1 had been waiting a little while. Had I known that she would be early, I would have stayed at the agency. I1 is fluent in English and had studied in South Carolina for a year. She works as an interpreter and teacher of the English language in Kiev. She has almost no accent and it was easy to speak with her. We went to Cafй Fellini (like the producer) and had lunch. She ordered the frogs legs and a salad. I ordered a chicken dish, but I was hardly hungry after breakfast a few hours earlier. I1 was incredibly beautiful and quite slender. She reminded me a bit of Sarah McLachlan which is an excellent thing… I simply adore Sarah McLachlan and I’m a bit smitten by her looks. Unfortunately the conversation that I1 and I had wasn’t so promising. She’s quite independent and a bit rebellious of her parents. If I had to compare, I’d say that she’s probably as close to an American teenager as I’ve seen in the FSU. In fact, the next table to ours had an American teenager and her Russian friend. Their conversation was not much more evolved than ours. As much as I wanted to like I1, I couldn’t bring myself to fully engage in the conversation. I simply kept the conversation going until it was time to go. I walked her to her job, got her cell number and after a very stiff, resistant hug on her part, I parted company. I1 has gotten a lot of correspondence from other men in America, so I think she will find someone who will suit her personality eventually… probably someone a bit younger. But she probably will not be getting a call back from me during this trip. My last date for the evening was S1. I met S1 at the agency at promptly 7:00 PM and proceeded from there. She is an interpreter and is quite fluent as well. She has a bit of a Dutch accent since she’s been doing a lot of translations in Holland. She’s proficient in German, and English, and can read Dutch easily. Very impressive! S1 is an attractive woman, but had I seen her on the street, I would have though that she might be of Irish descent, but not Russian. She laughed when I told her that. Other people had thought that she might have been German, but definitely not Russian. As it turns out, her father is Russian and her mother is Ukrainian. Thankfully S1 wasn’t very hungry as I was still full from eating virtually all day long. So we ended-up walking around Kiev and she gave me a bit of a guided tour of the different buildings and the underground mall. We then sat at the top of Globus (a part of the mall built into the side of a hill) and watched as all the lights turned-on in the square below us. It was beautiful! We spoke of her experiences studying in America (in Florida) and what she wanted to do in life. She’s a little rebellious, but that’s mostly because her parents are ex-military and have a very structured family life. She’s an only child but was hardly spoiled or pampered. I had a great time speaking with S1 but found that my energy was starting to wane a bit. We decided to return to Cafй Fellini and had a bit of dessert and a beer. The waitress from the afternoon recognized me instantly and smiled broadly knowing that I had been there hours earlier with a different girl. I smiled back and made eye contact so that she would know that we shared a secret.Speaking with S1 was easy and comfortable and I found myself telling her about my previous date. (I didn’t mention that it was in the same restaurant that we were dining in!) S1 isn’t the “classical beauty” that we probably envision. Instead, she is more of the girl-next-door and down-to-earth person that I think I’m drawn to. I will definitely see S1 again and I made a date for Wednesday at 7:00 PM.
Day 3 – Tuesday, August 31, 2004I forgot to mention yesterday that the Kiev Connections office was full of Americans and British men. Amazing the number of Americans here. I might have to consider starting a consulting service here in Kiev and working as an ex-pat. It’s a thought… though I would seriously have great difficulty leaving Southern California. Oh well… I’ll keep this thought in the back of my head for a while…I just completed a full-day date with Olga. We met at 11:00 AM at the Kiev Connections office, and we ended our day at 7:30 PM. I think the date would have gone on longer had O1 not needed to prepare for her lesson at the institute tomorrow. It was a full and fulfilling day with O1. I learned that we share so many things in common and only a couple of things not. I find her to be very attractive and I couldn’t help but stare at her from time to time. Her personality is awesome and I enjoy our talks via the interpreter. Without the interpreter (which happened right after lunch) we managed to speak a little, but it was a compromise between her limited English and my extremely limited Russian. Still we managed and we had a great time. Our date started by walking down to an old and historic part of Kiev. There are many artists here selling their work… and some pieces were quite lovely. I also saw vendors selling antique Nazi uniforms, medals, watches and T-Shirts emblazoned with “CCCP.” Interestingly enough, I even saw one T-Shirt with Stalin proudly and prominently waving his third digit. I was tempted to buy it, but when would I ever get to wear it? The likelihood of passport control in Kiev letting me into the country the next time (if I were wearing that shirt) would be pretty low.After walking around and viewing the art, O1, Tanya (the interpreter) and I went for lunch at a restaurant with an old Sea-faring ship motif. It was excellent and the food was fantastic. I had a chicken cutlet over apple compote and drizzled with raspberry sauce. It was unique and very tasty. I have to rip-off this recipe and add it to my repertoire. O1 had the fish which looked fantastic, and the translator had the Shashlik which also look great. Anyone who thinks that going to Kiev might be like going to a 2nd world country is mistaken. This place is amazing and I wouldn’t hesitate to come back! After lunch, Tanya had to return to Kiev Connections and meet her next client. I appreciated her help, but I also liked the fact that O1 and I had to fend for ourselves. After all, if things did work out, I don’t think Tanya would be moving to California with O1. (I am “putting the cart before the horse” as it were, but I tend to think ahead anyway…) O1 and I walked along the Dnipro River (“Dniper” in Russian, “Dnipro” in Ukrainian) for about 3 kilometers. That was a particularly long walk in the unseasonably warm Ukrainian afternoon. (It was about 30 degrees Celsius today and a bit humid.) We had planned to take the funicular (rail car going up a slope) to the top of the hill, but it was under construction. So we walked the 3 kilometers to the metro (rail) and rode to Universitet Ulitsa At our exit, the railway was approximately 200 meters underground. It was VERY impressive to see a railway so far down into the mountain. During the ride, O1 caught me staring at her (with my crooked smile) a few times. Ooops! But she smiled back, so I guess it’s not a bad thing…We ended the date by seeing Shrek 2 in a theater. It was fully dubbed into Russian and the audience loved it. I would have been very lost had I not seen Shrek 2 at least 5 times (3 of which were on the flight over to Kiev!) She’s got a lovely laugh and a fantastic personality. She seems very genuine, careful with my money (she tried to insist on taking the bus, but I wouldn’t allow it) and very family oriented. She even decided to enroll herself into an English program in Kiev. I was a bit shocked and surprised! But I wasn’t about to argue that point with her… she very well might need those English skills in Huntington Beach, California one day! :-P I’m old enough to know that I shouldn’t be smitten with someone after 2 dates… but I find myself strongly drawn to her.Now the dilemma: I have a date with S1 tomorrow night at 7:00 PM. But O1 wants to see me again tomorrow and wants me to spend time with her at her institute. I might try to break-away from my date with O1 to meet S1. I’d do this only for “due diligence” and to ensure that I’ve given both women an equal opportunity. (I1 fell out of the running yesterday.) If I miss this opportunity, I won’t be able to see O1 again until Friday since she’ll be working and attending the institute. The decision is weighing on my quite heavily right now.I told O1 that I might not be able to make it to Mogilev. The agency that issued my visa only gave me a single-entry into the Ukraine. If I meet-up with Khashyar and Lena in Mogilev, there’s an excellent chance I couldn’t return to Kiev. I would need to return to Kiev to catch my flight home. O1 was hoping that I would consider staying longer in Kiev so we could have more time together. That really does sound appealing to me… but I don’t want to miss my friends in Mogilev and Minsk too. Such a dilemma.
Day 4 - Early, EARLY morning report...
Day 4 – Wednesday (early morning), September 1, 2004I’m still suffering a bit from jet lag. That and the mildly oppressive heat in Kiev (and lack of working air conditioning in my room) has kept me awake. It’s starting to cool down in the room at 4:30 in the morning, but I’ll have to ask the hotel staff to fix the air conditioner soon. My expenses so far haven’t been terrible. I brought $2,600 American Dollars with me to Kiev. So far, I’ve spent the following (in American Dollars): Sherborne Apt. ($85/night x 6 nights): $510Airport Pick-up/Drop-Off: $ 26Money Changed (at approx 5.3 grevna:$1) $300Money retrieved from the Bankomat (ATM) $200Total Money exchanged money remaining) $ 75.50So in the 4 days that I’ve been here, I’ve expended (on dates only, excluding lodging) about $425 US Dollars. That includes dining and drinks for dates, paying for the translator (at about $7 per hour), and taxi fare. Admittedly some of the meals were a bit more expensive. My date with I1 at Cafй Fellini was approximately $50 US Dollars because she ordered the Frog’s Legs and some sort of salad. Most of my other dates have been reasonably priced and even lunch for three at a nice restaurant (with O1, the translator and myself) only came to $27.If I stay until September 14th (my flight home), I will need to spend another $1,050 on lodging. Luckily I have those funds available in cash and that will leave me with about $750 US Dollars to make it through for another 2 weeks. Considering my consumption is about $100 a day currently, I would need twice that amount. But if I focus solely on O1, then I would be able to slow-down the expenditure a bit and possibly limit how much we use the translator. (Approximately $56 of my total expenditures was for Tanya, the translator, but her translations were excellent and well worth the price.)
Day 4 – Wednesday, September 01, 2004 (Evening)At 10:00 AM, I went to the Sherborne Apartment’s office (in the basement of the apartment block I am in) and informed them that I will be staying until September 14th. It was a good thing since they are nearly fully booked. I was a bit surprised because they own nearly all of the apartments in the block that I live in, and a few apartments elsewhere in the city. Had I waited much longer, they might not have accommodated me. I will need to move to a more expensive flat on Monday, September 6 since no others are available, but they gave me a reduced rate. And I’ll move again at the end of that week. All told, I paid another $1,125 for my lodging in Kiev through September 14th. Luckily I like the western style flats very much and, while expensive, I’ve been quite happy here.I returned to my flat just in time to see the air conditioning repair people fixing the unit in my room. I was glad that they came today because it rained later in the afternoon and it was a bit warm. I’m told that the weather will cool by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next day or two, so it will be much more comfortable to walk about the city.I also returned in time to watch CNN and its coverage of the Chechen hostage situation in Moscow on this first day of school for all children throughout the FSU. I don’t understand how these actions will gain the support for the terrorist’s cause. Instead, they make near impossible demands and hold innocent lives as hostages. All these terrorists are cowards in my opinion. As Sting once sung, “The Russians love their children too.”I called S1 today at noon. We had a date set for 7:00 o’clock this evening, but I decided to reschedule this date for tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:00 o’clock. O1 is only available today, then she will be busy studying at the institute and working at her job until Friday evening. She will not be available again until Saturday. I wanted to maximize my time with O1. It was a bit awkward asking S1 to reschedule, but she seemed OK with it. I was glad. It’s such a unique feeling for me to have to juggle two dates!I had a little time before my date with O1, so I decided to sample the cuisine from “Mister Snak.” The area below the street (in the underground crosswalk area) near my apartment is filled with stores and a place to eat. It’s clean and bright and it surprised me! I actually spent about an hour in the underground walking through all the stores, looking at some books at a store with almost all books in English, and eating a sandwich at Mister Snak. I spent 8.5 Grevna on lunch (about $1.60 US Dollars) for a tasty sandwich and a bottle of Fanta (Orange soda.) Upon returning to my flat, I decided to open my little bag of pharmaceuticals and take an Immodium AD. The food in Ukraine is quite rich and does contain a bit more fat than most Westerners are used to (in my opinion.) Better to be prepared than sorry I figure. Bring Immodium if you’re coming to Ukraine just in case…O1 and I agreed to meet at the Kiev Connections agency at 3:00 o’clock. I arrived at 2:30 since I had a bit of time on my hands. I ran into a man named John at Kiev Connections. As it turns out, he recognized me from the Amsterdam airport! He and I had traveled from America and had taken the same flight from Amsterdam to Kiev. He is traveling with his sister who is adopting a child from Donnetsk. He had a little time before taking the train in the afternoon, so he decided to walk around the neighborhood and found Kiev Connection’s sign on the door. He decided to walk in and see what it was all about. I spoke with him about my experiences and introduced him to the agency owner, Brett. It was pleasant speaking with him and I think he’ll return to the agency after his trip to Donnetsk to try a few introductions. Tanya (my interpreter) had told me that V1 (my “no-show” date) had called and wanted to reschedule. She wanted to meet with me, but she was not in Kiev at the time. V1 was hoping we could schedule a meeting for Thursday. I told Tanya I would think about it, but I didn’t want to schedule a date with V1 right now since things were going well with O1 and I still had a second date with S1 to attend. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed that V1 couldn’t call ahead to let someone know that she couldn’t make the date. I think I’m a bit traditional because I see that as a lack of respect. I probably will not schedule a date with V1 especially since things are going so well with O1.O1 and I decided to forgo a translator again today. Instead, O1 was armed with her dictionary and we tried to make a go of it. I think some things got missed in the translations, but not much. We walked along to an old part of the city where we were able to see an old church with caverns beneath it. In these caverns (catacombs?) were the bodies of the prior Orthodox priests that had been laid to rest in glass-covered coffins. Almost all were covered in religious garments, but occasionally a priest’s hands were visible and they looked to be quite well preserved. Light in the catacombs is by candle only and, true to Orthodox traditions for respect, women must wear robes and cover their hair. Luckily the priests thought ahead and had extra scarves and robes for female visitors. It’s not eerie in the least and to see the amount of reverence the Ukrainians have for their Orthodox priests is very impressive. I found myself kneeling and making the sign-of-the-cross before passageways into rooms with altars.Walking the above-grounds portion of this church was impressive too. In standard religious practice, the church was built on the highest point in Kiev. The are 7 hills that surround Kiev and on the top of each it seems, there resides another church. The grounds of this church were large and impressive… a testament to the prominence of religion throughout Europe and Russia.After our foray below and above ground, O1 and I decided to go back to the movie theater and watch “Garfield.” I hadn’t seen this movie in America so I would largely have no idea of the dialog. Luckily it was easy enough to figure-out the plot and guess what most of the dialog was about. O1 (and the rest of the audience) laughed loudly and it seemed to really enjoy the movie. I enjoyed it too… Garfield has always been a favorite cartoon of mine. “Around The World in 80 Days” opens on September 2nd and O1 and I have decided that this will be our next film to see.After the film, O1 and I began to think of places for dinner. Her favorite is “Moda Bar” which I wanted to visit anyway. But O1 insisted that it was far too expensive and decided against it. I like that she is careful about money! I think this is a very good sign! And I like that she is committed to completing her education as a doctor. She is in her last year (of a 6 year program) to study medicine in Ukraine. I wonder if any of these skills might be transferable to an American undergraduate degree or medical degree program? O1 plans to work and study wherever she finds herself. I knew I liked this girl for a reason!We finally decided on a Mexican Restaurant called “Azteca.” This is a restaurant near the hospital that O1 works at. I ordered the “Wet Burrito” and she ordered a different burrito. And I ordered the guacamole as well. I should have suspected that Mexican food might be different in Ukraine, but I hadn’t expected that my burrito would be wrapped in what otherwise might be known as a “blini” (blintz.) It wasn’t terrible, but I also couldn’t bring myself to eat more than half of the burrito. The sauce (instead of ranchero sauce) was a sweet sauce that tasted heavily of ketchup. The guacamole needed more lime juice, no sour cream, and salsa with a bit more jalapeno. I’m a bit critical because I like to cook and I know how to make tortillas and guacamole. I think most Americans will want to avoid Azteca or adjust your expectations downwards. Most others who have never had Mexican cuisine would not have noticed. O1 enjoyed her meal immensely.After dinner, O1 and I walked a bit and enjoyed the cool evening air. We spoke a little and I realized how much I enjoyed speaking with O1. She’s very easy going and I feel comfortable talking to her and telling her everything. O1 is strongly in the lead ahead of the others despite the fact that she doesn’t speak much English. I’m glad that O1 doesn’t see my lack of Russian language knowledge as a detriment. We will see each other at 9:00 AM on Saturday and spend all day together. I’m definitely looking forward to our next date.
Day 5, Thursday, September 02, 2004I didn’t do much today at all. I decided that I was going to rest from the frantic dating routine during the day, though I did have a date with S1 at 7:00 PM tonight. I managed to walk to the Supermarket (“Supermag” in Russian) and bought a loaf of bread, cheese, eggs, yogurt, 1.5 liters of water, 1.5 liters of soda, oil, pre-prepared chickent cutlets and chicken filets, and a few other things. The total came to 48 Gryvnas… a little under $10 US Dollars and there’s enough groceries to keep me eating in my flat for 4 days. It’s entirely possible to spend money quickly here if you want, but if you live as other Ukrainians do, it’s possible to really stretch those dollars out.I’ve also noticed that I’ve lost some weight while I’m here in Ukraine despite the fact that I’m “off diet” and eating foods not approved for the Lindora diet. I’ve been eating carbohydrates and fats… but the weight continues to come off. I think it’s because of the amount of walking that occurs here. It’s a necessity to be able to walk around the city since taking the taxi to go a few blocks is foolish. I also believe my climbing of 6 flights of stairs multiple times each day helps too. I no longer am winded by the time I reach the top of the 6th flight. Although I had intended to find a gym, this passive form of exercise is very welcome.I am a bit surprised to see a BBC World special about the Ukraine on television. The spread of HIV in Ukraine is increasing with an expected ѕ of the people spreading the disease are Intravenous drug users. Rising unemployment and prostitution are the chief reasons credited to the spread of this disease. People feel dejected because of the lack of available jobs and turn to drugs to receive the “high” with the belief that they should enjoy this “joy” before it’s unaffordable to them. Prostitution helps to spread the disease and often times prostitutes themselves push the drugs. It was disheartening to see on television that a mother and daughter were both drug users and the daughter was a prostitute. When I was walking along the historic part of the city (with the old road and artists) I thought it a bit odd and humorous to see a new crack pipe for sale. Now I understand why it was so publicly on display and I think it a bit sad and repulsive. I suppose I was a bit naпve to think that drugs might not be such an epidemic outside the United States.Ukraine is divided by the Dnipro River into the Left Bank (Eastern and Southern Ukraine) and the Right Bank (Western, northern Ukraine.) The left bank still adopts many of the standards that were left in place by Russian occupation. The Right Bank (and especially the city of Lviv) is more nationalistic and prefer to speak Ukrainian. Kiev is on the border of the Dnipro River, on the Right Bank, and Russian and Ukrainian languages are both spoken here. I’m told that Lviv is fiercely nationalistic and the people who live in that city do not like Russian nationalists.I napped briefly before going on my date with S1. We have to meet at 7:00 PM because S1 works from home and must be available to translate for her boss between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM. She lives on the Left Bank of the Dnipro and must cross over the Dnipro to arrive in the city center. We met in front of Cafй Fellini since it seemed to be a central meeting place. We walked a bit and got re-acquainted. S1’s knowledge of English really made it easy to express myself, but I didn’t feel as engaged with her as when I was speaking with O1. We walked to a Stradivari restaurant and had a nice meal. The conversation was lighthearted but I was a bit distracted by the smoke around me. (Neither S1 nor I are smokers.) The meal was good but a bit pricey. Both S1 and I had Chianti (rather good Chianti I might add.) S1 had a salad and fish, while I had chicken. And we both had dessert… S1 selected chocolate ice cream and I selected the baked apple. Our gluttony set me back 278 Gryvna (about $52.50 US Dollars.) The difference between this meal with S1 and the expensive meal I had with I1 was that I selected the restaurant this time. S1 had warned that the restaurant might be a bit expensive, but I assured her that it would OK, especially since neither of us had tried the restaurant before. After dinner, we walked a bit and S1 continued to show me a bit of her city. And at the end of the date, we shared a cab to my flat, then she continued on to her home. We will have another date on Friday night.My overall impressions after several days of dating: O1 is strongly in the lead. I really enjoy my time with O1 and how comfortable I feel with her. I also find myself strongly attracted to her personality as well as to her physically. I often find myself thinking and musing about her after our dates… probably an excellent sign that I’m smitten… or just criminally obsessed. S1 is a truly good-hearted person I believe. And I think she’s an attractive woman. But I simply don’t have the same feelings for her as I do for O1. I can see that S1 would make a very good friend, but we don’t share that same level of comfort with each other that O1 and I have. But I want to have another date with S1 to validate my observations. As for V1 (the “no show” date that would like to meet now), I have decided that I will not call her.One unique quality about O1 that I like is that she’s a bit jealous. I haven’t told her about S1 (nor have I told S1 about O1) but I think S1 is catching-on. She asked a few times about other people and what I have done during the day. O1 is a bit more patient, but I think she wonders also. I posed the following question to O1: If we were together at a party and I spoke to other women, would she be jealous? Her answer was an affirmative… and she posed the same question to me. I have to admit that I would be jealous also. If we both have these jealous feelings, I wonder what that means? Hopefully it’s a tip-off about her feelings for me. But I guess I’ll learn about those on subsequent dates.
Day 6 – Friday, September 03, 2004It’s 10:20 PM in Kiev as I write this. I think Khashyar and Lena must have taken a nap after their arrival in Mogilev earlier this morning. They’re probably awake and re-connecting with Lena’s parents. I wish I was there also… but if I were to look at the silver lining in my situation, I’m able to spend more time with O1 tomorrow and Sunday. I’ve been thinking about it all day today and I can’t wait for 9:00 AM Saturday to arrive.I watched CNN in awe and disbelief today. The Russian school hostage situation reached the breaking point and, at last report, 100 children and adults lay dead. People in Kiev are angry about the situation also, but of the people I spoke with, they blame the Chechen rebels for constantly stirring-up trouble. They are of the belief that the Muslim religion is not a peaceful one and encourages the slaying of non-Muslims. It’s a pity that there are such religious factions that can’t allow each other to practice in peace. I say each person must find his or her own peace and religious solace. But in the history of religion and its impact upon cultures, I guess my personally philosophy isn’t shared by historical leaders. (Think back to The Inquisition and The Crusades to name a couple.)I did manage to have a little excursion before my date with S1 this evening. I walked through the park near my flat, passed the Lavra (with the catacombs I had written about) and arrived at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (World War II.) It is situated near the top of the hill with a commanding view of the Left Bank of Kiev and a fantastic view of the Lavra Cathedral. Walking along the museum’s grounds, I saw old war machines such as tanks and helicopters. These decommissioned war machines were made available for Kiev’s children to climb over. The central figure in the museum’s grounds is a huge statue made of metal (similar to our Statue of Liberty) of a woman holding a shield (with the Ukrainian crest) and a sword. This lady symbolizes Ukrainian independence and is an awe-inspiring attraction. On the courtyard before the huge statue were two tanks facing each other with their turrets crossed. Each tank was painted with flowers and bright colors. I thought of the strong symbolism that it imparted to me… that these war machines now had a new mission: To never be used again as war machines, but a symbol of peace.On the way back to my flat, I stopped at Mister Snak and purchased another sandwich and a Diet Coke. (Actually it’s called “Coke Light” in Kiev.) This would later prove to be a mistake. Let’s just say that I’m glad that I thought ahead and packed enough Immodium AD to last at least 2 weeks. And I have made a mental note that I will probably not eat another sandwich from Mister Snak. Again I reiterate: If you’re coming to the Ukraine, go and buy some immediately. You can thank me later.I had a date with S1 tonight at 7:00 PM. I was a bit late because of the Friday evening traffic. Kiev is no different than most major cities… traffic exists and, because of the narrow and winding roads, it can take quite a bit longer to get places during rush hour. It’s best to plan ahead.We met in front of our usual meeting place, Cafй Fellini, and walked a bit toward the Friendship Arch. The park the Arch sits in is quite pretty and, like the other parks, overlooks the city of Kiev. Also within the park is the winter practice house of the Ukrainian Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately they use the house for practice only from October through April, so I wasn’t able to get a glimpse of them. S1 wanted to try a French restaurant called “Grand Cafй.” I should have expected that it might be a bit pricey, but I was in for a bit of a shock. When we arrived at the cafй, I realized that it was indeed a first-class, gourmet establishment. S1 had a salad and an entrйe that I can’t remember. I had the borscht and a petit filet of beef. For dessert, I had the strawberry tiramisu and S1 had the chocolate soufflй with vanilla ice cream. We both had a coffee with dessert. Our grand total for this culinary feast came to (including gratuity) a whopping 520 Gryvnas (roughly $98 US Dollars.) I’m glad that I made it a point to carry at least $500 Gryvnas with me at all times. But in order for us to take a taxi home, I needed to stop at the Bankomat to withdraw another 1000 Gryvnas (roughly $200 US Dollars.) This was, without a doubt, the most expensive meal I’ve had yet in Kiev and my budget won’t tolerate many nights such as these. Unfortunately for S1, my earlier dining experience at the less-culinarily refined “Mister Snak” was beginning to take its toll. I decided to cut-short our date so I might return to my flat and take an Immodium tablet and lie down. I think subconsciously, I wanted to find safe haven and reconsider what had happened this evening.In retrospect, I think S1 prefers a more upscale lifestyle… one that I’m not prepared to afford. $100 dinners, even in America, are quite elaborate and infrequent. I have no aversion to spending money on a fabulous meal, but they tend to be special and occur quite infrequently. I am still recoiling a bit from tonight’s dinner bill.In contrast, I like how O1 is very careful with money. She’s considerate and doesn’t presume anything. I know that she would like to try Sushi here in Kiev (I’m not a sushi eater and generally don’t eat seafood), but she declined to go on our last date because she thought it might be too expensive and that I might not find anything I might want to eat. I am sure I will take her to a sushi restaurant this weekend… but it’s because I want to. And to me, it brings me great pleasure to make someone such as O1 happy. The more time I spend dating other women, the more I realize that O1 is running away from the field. The fact that I think about her frequently only helps my decision to focus the rest of my time in Kiev with O1.S1 asked to see me on Saturday, but Saturday and Sunday are the only days that O1 will be free all day. I tell S1 that the agency has me scheduled with another date (a slight lie) and that I would call her on Monday. I will probably have dinner with S1 on Monday (at a far less expensive place) and will let her know that I’ve decided to only date O1 during the remainder of my time in Kiev. I plan to tell O1 that I am dating her exclusively during our date on the weekend. Wish me luck. Kiev Connection’s philosophy on their “Matchmaking Service” is to have their client select 10 women with the hope that 5 will agree to meet with a man. And from those 5, hopefully a match will be made between the man and at least one of the women. I started by selecting 10 women and had 4 that agreed to meet with me. One was a no-show (and later wanted to meet, but I declined), and I dated the remaining three women. I1 fell by the wayside after the first date, and now at week’s end, I think I’ve confirmed that I’d like to continue dating O1 only. Overall, I’d have to say that Brett Ousley’s approach seems to work well.
Day 7 - Saturday, September 4 2004
Day 7 – Saturday, September 04, 2004I couldn’t sleep last night. I was looking forward to my date with O1 at 9:00 AM and I after 4 hours of rather tumultuous sleep, I decided to get-up, watch some episodes of Jamie Oliver’s cooking show from Food TV (which I recorded onto DVD from my TiVo at home) and iron some clothes. It’s strange to me how this nervous energy is manifesting itself. I haven’t felt such nervous energy in a very long time.I left my flat at 8:30 and arrived in front of the Kiev Connections office at 8:45 AM. The office doesn’t open until 11:00 AM, but O1 and I agreed to meet at 9:00 AM to maximize our time together today. I arrived in time to see a man copying down some information from the travel agency sign in front of the building. He began trying to speak to me, but my Russian is quite bad and my Ukrainian is non-existent. I tried to explain to him in my pidgin Russian that I was American and I didn’t understand much Russian and no Ukrainian. We had quite an animated and unintelligible conversation for 10 minutes, but he was a friendly fellow. We bid each other a good morning just as O1 rounded the corner and began walking toward me.O1 was a sight for sore eyes. I felt my pulse quicken and any fatigue from lack of sleep instantly left my body. Some might say that I had an adrenaline rush, but I think it was something else. After all, I don’t think an adrenaline rush lasts for more t 13 hours… which was the length of our date today.I asked if O1 had had breakfast yet. She hadn’t… so I decided we might have breakfast at O’Brien’s pub. I had breakfast at O’Brien’s on my first day in Kiev and I enjoyed it… so I thought we might go again, especially since it was a short walk from the agency. O1 told me she thought it was O’Brien’s that she had her first date with an American from the agency. I was a bit intrigued ( and jealous) about this date and what had happened. As it turns out, O1 simply didn’t feel comfortable with this man and only had the one date. As we approached O’Brien’s, O1 recollected the first date and decided it was TGI Fridays that she had her first agency date. I exhaled a barely perceptible sigh of relief and we entered O’Brien’s for breakfast.O1 was wearing a sleeveless top and light pants that ended just below the knees. She looked fantastic, but considering that it had just rained that morning, I was concerned that she might be a bit cold. She insisted that she wasn’t, but I think she was being a bit gallant. After our breakfast, we walked to the Globus mall so I might find a jacket for her.The Globus mall is quite large and rivals American malls. It even has a food court! American and European fashions are everywhere. Outside of the mall, more stores line both sides of Hreshaltik Boulevard. (Hreshaltik is the main street in Kiev.) O1 and I had fun going from store-to-store and trying-on various jeans, skirts and jackets. O1 is a tall girl and often times she doesn’t meet with much success in finding jeans with enough length. Levis are popular here in Kiev and quite pricey… about $100 US Dollars per pair. I told O1 that if she would tell me her size, I might be able to send her some 501s or 505 jeans from America. O1 looked at me quizzically and asked, “How do you know if it will fit if you cannot try it on?” I laughed a little and told O1 that Levi’s are very consistent and if one size of 501 jeans will fit, then almost all of them will fit. I buy jeans without trying them on… I buy based upon knowing what size I need. O1 seemed amused by this.As we walked along Hreshaltik Boulevard, a road race passed us by. It was amusing to watch the various cars with racing numbers on the side. Included in these cars were several European sports car that I couldn’t recognize, a Lotus or Caterham Super 7 (I think), a Lotus Elise 111s, a circa-1975 Oldsmobile Toronado, several newer BMWs, a smattering of Porsche 924, 944 and 914s and an older Fiat painted purple. I was thrilled to see this parade of cars go by. To my surprise, O1 enjoyed the cars also. She likes Porsches and BMWs. (!!!!) And she happens to like Hummer H2s as well. Apparently wealthy Ukrainian and Byelorussians drive them as we saw several on our walks. The number of new BMW 525s and 645s here just amazes me. Kiev is probably the most European of cities I’ve been to in the Former Soviet Union. (I would put it slightly ahead of Prague in my opinion.)O1 and I stopped in several cell phone shops here in Kiev. In the past, someone had stolen her cell phone on the metro. I thought I might help her out (as well as myself) by buying a cell phone for her. O1 shares a one room flat with 3 other female students from the medical university and often time waits for her turn with the phone in the flat. I know… some of you might think I was a bit foolish for purchasing a cell phone for O1. But in my defense, it just felt right. I can’t explain it. And O1 was careful to select a good phone at a good price. In fact, we walked to many cell phone stores until we found her chosen phone (Siemens A62) for 110 Gryvna less than we had seen it elsewhere. O1 immediately tried to call her parents but they might have been at the dacha and most definitely weren’t home. She then tried to call her brother, but he also wasn’t home. She left a message for him.It might be a bit presumptuous for a date to take me to an expensive restaurant because it presumes that I’ll spend that amount. But, as I explained to O1, when I like someone, I’m more than willing to spend money on a nice gift. The difference is that one is a bit outside my control (the dinner) while the other (the cell phone gift) is based upon my decision to be generous or not. O1 was overwhelmed and ecstatic about the telephone. It put a huge smile on my face all day that I made her happy. It mattered to me that much.After the cell phone store, we headed over to the Zoological Museum. (We simply know it as “The Zoo.”) O1 insisted that we take the bus (at 1 Gryvna per person) instead of a taxi. It was pleasant to walk through the zoo with O1. As it turned out, Kievstar (the cell phone provider in Kiev) was having a bit of a contest for a free cell phone card, so we hustled along the park looking for clues and answering questions about the animals in order to collect stamps on a contest sheet. We had fun trying to figure out the answers and in the end, O1 was rewarded with a cell phone card for her efforts. Now she had a cell phone and two telephone numbers!After our bit of fun at the zoo, we toured O1’s medical university. O1 is in her final year of study at the medical university and travels to various hospitals in Kiev for her residency. But she wanted to show me her school and where she spent the last 5 years of her life in intense study as a medical student. I walked in awe… the medical college building is physically 165 years old and, quite honestly, shows its age in places. But to know that O1 has such a strong education puts me in awe of her. My MBA hardly seems a match with the amount and intensity of her education.The cash I had in my pocket was running a bit low, so I asked O1 to take a Taxi back to the Sherborne Hotel so I might retrieve more Gryvna that I had in my travel wallet. I used this opportunity to show O1 pictures of my mom, sister, brother, nephews and niece on my notebook computer. I also gave her a quick tour of my city (online photos of Huntington Beach) and of Los Angeles. While online, I decided to follow-up on the Russian school siege situation in Besslan. O1 had been at her medical school studying yesterday, then at her job in the evening (working as a waitress) and hadn’t heard about the outcome. She read the emerging news story online in shock. I saw the chill run down her arm as her hairs on her arm physically stood on-end. She had no idea that 322 people had died, of that number were 155 children. O1’s humanitarian side really shone to me at that moment… but I had no words of comfort for her. Who would? I simply rubbed her arm in silent support.It was getting to be about dinner time and I had planned to take O1 to a sushi restaurant in Kiev called Nobu. She always wanted to eat Sushi but hadn’t had an opportunity to do so. O1 decided that she did not want to go to Nobu… mostly because she knows that I don’t eat fish (especially raw fish). I tried to insist, but O1 would not hear of it. Instead, she thought we might try the Uzbek restaurant ("Caravan") in town. We took a taxi to the restaurant and I was impressed by the dйcor. I was even more impressed with the food and the great prices. I had the plov (Uzbek rice) and chicken shashlik (shish kabob.) O1 had the plov and a cheese dish that I looked like lasagna without the meat and sauce. I insisted on ordering fruit drinks (non alcoholic) for us as well as a bottle of water. The food was excellent and authentic. (I had the plov in Tashkent and Samarkand, Ukbekistan… and the plov at this restaurant was every bit as good.) O1 offered me a taste of her sauceless lasagna. I took a little taste but O1 insisted I take more and gave me half! O1 could pass the litmus test in any Asian family I think! When the bill came, I was thrilled that the total was just 146 Gryvnas… about $27.50 US Dollars.During dinner, I decided to tell O1 about my dates that I had that week. I wanted to be honest with O1, and I wanted her to know that I had made a decision. I told her that I only wanted to see her for the remainder of my stay in Kiev. I explained why I1 had fallen out of the running very early on, and how V1 hadn’t shown for a first date and hadn’t called ahead. I also explained about S1 and how I wasn’t as comfortable with her and had spent an obscene amount of money on dinner the prior night. O1 was shocked at the money spent, but was glad to know that I had decided to date only her. She suggested that we visit Kiev Connections sometime before I left so she might remove her profile. I was thrilled to hear those words! I’m becoming more than smitten with O1.O1 and I decided to walk back to Globus and Hreshaltik Boulevard because, on the weekends, the streets are closed and it becomes a bit of a street fair. It was also getting a bit colder as the sun set and O1 was still wearing her sleeveless top and light pants. I dragged O1 back down to Globus mall where I insisted on buying her a pair of “Colins” jeans and a light jacket. O1 was beaming and it brought another smile to my face. I’m sure that people in Kiev were wondering why this Asian American was walking about with a Cheshire-Cat smile… but I couldn’t help myself. At this point I was beyond smitten… I was completely gone.Our date lasted 13 hours and ended because O1 needed to go home and rest. Her newly-enrolled English lesson would begin at 11:00 AM on Sunday, and she needs to study for her courses at the medical university for Monday. But we agreed to meet at 5:00 PM on Sunday for dinner. And O1 insisted that we do something very affordable. I might still have to surprise her with a sushi dinner at Nobu.
Day 8 – Sunday, September 05, 2004O1 had an English lesson in the morning and needed to study for Monday’s lessons at the medical university, so I had most of the day free. We would meet at 5:00 PM in front of “Tsoom” department store on Hresyaltik.Because I have extended my stay in Kiev, the Sherborne Hotel staff had to shuffle a bit to accommodate my extended stay. I will be moving in the morning to another apartment. Luckily it’s on the same floor that I’m currently on… but it’s a 3-room flat instead of my 1 room flat. I will stay in this 3-room flat until Friday. Then I will move to a 3-room flat on Hreshaltik for 3 days. Then on Tuesday, I return to my 1 room flat for my final night in Kiev. Although I still have slightly more than a week in Kiev, I’m already finding that I don’t want to leave quite so soon. I inquired with the front desk and they’ve told me that people already have begun booking the apartments for the Christmas and New Years season. I will think about what dates I would like to select for my return visit and will let the staff know as quickly as possible.The weather in Kiev has become quite noticeably cooler. Just a week ago, there was rather oppressive heat and humidity. But today, there’s a steady breeze and the temperatures have dropped from the low 80’s (Fahrenheit) to what I would guess as the low 70’s or high 60’s. I’m told that winter here can be fairly cold. If it’s anything like a winter in Minsk, I’d content that “fairly cold” might be an understatement. Still, I’m not dissuaded from making a return visit.I was actually a little early to meet O1. I arrived at 4:15 for our 5:00 o’clock meeting. I walked up-and-down Hreshaltik Boulevard and observed the people. Public displays of affection are commonplace in Kiev. And thousands of people flood the streets of Kiev on such nice weather days to enjoy the vibrant nightlife. There are street vendors selling anything from fruit to balloons, food stands are everywhere and have a free-flowing tap of beer, musicians perform on virtually every corner… it’s quite festive! I’m a little surprised to see the number of people drinking beer from bottles everywhere on the street, but there didn’t seem to be any fights or disorderliness, so something must be done right.O1 looked lovely and had a broad smile when I saw her. She was wearing a beautiful checker-board patterned top and the new denim mini-skirt we bought yesterday. After a hug (that I didn’t want to end), we exchanged pleasantries and I asked what she would like to eat. She tried suggesting a number of restaurants, but I kept insisting on Nobu. (I can be very stubborn.) Finally O1 relented and we walked to Nobu. Once inside the restaurant, O1’s eyes went wide. She was shocked at the pricing and tried to insist that we leave and find a more affordable restaurant. I told her it was OK… we should try Sushi just to know if we liked it or not. I noticed that she tried to order a very affordable plate of sushi and a plate of cheesecake. I ordered a sampler plate of sushi and sashimi, tempura and Udon noodles for myself. I hadn’t thought ahead and didn’t realize that O1 might not know how to use chopsticks. I tried to give her a lesson in the art of using two sticks to pick-up food and she was a good student, but it does take some time to develop the dexterity in the fingers to effectively use chopsticks. The restaurant staff saw our developing lesson and soon appeared with a pair of chopsticks with a rolled-paper fulcrum and rubber-band tied around the back of both sticks. Very cute!O1 enjoyed her plate (basically a California Roll), but when the sampler plate arrived, she was amazed. She tried the raw salmon, tuna, yellow tail and octopus and enjoyed it immensely. The tempura and udon noodles arrived later and O1 tried both. She even convinced me to try octopus and a sushi with fish roe in it. It wasn’t bad… but not something I’d actively seek-out to eat. I still couldn’t bring myself to eat the raw fish, but O1 came dangerously close to convincing me to eat it. She’s the only person who’s been able to convince me to eat octopus and fish roe though.Nobu was a bit expensive, but hardly more expensive than the other restaurants that I1 and S1 had taken me to. Our total for the evening was 410 Gryvna ($77 US Dollars) which included a 10% discount because O1 had a “Royal Card” (Dining club card) that she applied for yesterday at Karavan Uzbek Restaurant. After the meal, O1 insisted that I not buy anymore presents or expensive meals for her. I smiled a sly smile… did I mention that I’m stubborn?During dinner, O1 informed me that her mom would be traveling from Kharkiv to Kiev for business. She would arrive on Friday. I told O1 that I would like to meet her mom and take her to dinner. O1 was very pleased to hear that. I asked if her father would travel with her mom, and she said, “No.” It was a business trip and her mother would travel alone. O1 is a bit fearful that her father might not approve… he’s very conservative and she feels that he might want her to meet a Ukrainian man and stay in Ukraine. I assured O1 that if I met her father, I would try my best to put him at ease. In all pictures of her father, I had not seen him smile, so this might prove to be an uphill battle. But it’s a battle that I would be determined to win. I’ll cross this bridge when I come to cross it.We took a taxi back to Hreshaltik Boulevard and the Globus mall. O1 needed to buy a pair of shoes at Ecco. She had looked for a pair at the smaller Ecco shops in the underground, but did not find the shoes she wanted. It was already 8:00 PM and I was pleasantly surprised that the mall was still open. It remains open until 10:00 PM on Sundays. O1 went to Ecco and found the shoes she wanted. They looked comfortable and will probably serve her well for the amount of walking she needs to do in her medical job and her waitress job.As we were walking out of the mall, I saw a toy store. I made O1 walk into the toy store with me. I was a man on a mission. On several of our dates, O1 had stopped in front of Lions and posed proudly next to them. O1’s astrological sign is Leo and she’s drawn to lions. I sought-out and found the stuffed animal section of the store and bought a stuffed lion for O1. She smiled broadly and later in the evening (when we visited her old job at a another restaurant) the stuffed bear would emerge from the bag as she proudly displayed it for all her friends. This brought a smile to my face each and every time.
Day 9 - Monday, September 6 2004
Day 9 – Monday, September 06, 2004O1 had lessons at the medical university in the morning and had to work until 10:00 PM. So I had the day to myself. I would meet O1 in front of “Tsoom” Department Store again at 10:05 PM. I spent the morning in a bit of a rush to get myself prepared for my move 6 meters away. I was moving from one apartment to another because of the logistics involved in extending my stay. The new apartment is a 2 bedroom as opposed to my studio apartment that I was vacating. Once moved in, that feeling of solitude and loneliness started creeping in. I realized that with so much of my time devoted to O1, I actually began to feel a bit lonely when I wasn’t with her. Luckily I was able to keep myself busy until it was time to meet O1.After changing apartments, I decided to saunter over to “Salute Casino” which is across the street from my flat. The casino has a restaurant that is open 24 hours. After my new-found aversion to Mister Snak, I decided the restaurant was my next best bet for food. I wandered across the street (via the underground) and within 5 minutes of leaving my flat, I was seated at a table overlooking the intersection. I was a bit hungry and it was already lunch time, so I ordered a bowl of Ukrainian borscht and a plate of Spaghetti Marinara. The food was a little slow in arriving, but it gave me ample time to look at the busy intersection and observe the different people in Kiev. I noticed a few Japanese and Chinese people, as well as a few other nationalities. Kiev, I believe, is probably the FSU equivalent to a melting pot. Although not quite on the grand scale of New York or Los Angeles (or even Toronto), Kiev is on its way to having a diverse multi-ethnic community. Lunch arrived within 15 minutes and I began with the soup. I don’t know if this was truly Ukrainian borscht or not, but it was delicious. I could have easily had another bowl. While relatively simple in ingredients, it’s the combination that makes it such a tasty soup. As someone once wrote: If you give Julia Child and Ralph (the short-order cook) the same ingredients, you’ll end up with two very different things. With that said, I can now address the pasta marinara. I was a bit surprised to see chicken instead of beef, and the lack of a hearty tomato sauce caught by surprise as well. But upon plating the pasta, I saw how the thinner, sublime flavors of the sauce glazed over all the noodles and provided a strong flavor without having to resort to a heavy sauce. I approved and happily ate the whole plate. And, for “expensive hotel/casino food”, my total came to a paltry 64 Gryvnas… about $12. For the amount of food I ate, I think the restaurant is quite a good bargain for hungry people. I will return to this restaurant.The rest of the afternoon was spent running to the Supermag to buy groceries for my new flat and watching a few recorded episodes of “Scrubs” I had copied to DVD. I was to call S1, but I was a coward and decided to wait until Tuesday to call her and tell her I would not be seeing her again. Besides, I was busy preparing the flat because I had invited O1 to stay in the 2nd bedroom that I had. I thought it would maximize the time we had together and it would put her closer to her medical university and her job on Hreshyaltic Boulevard. O1 was a bit undecided if she might stay… it seemed a little improper for her to be staying in a man’s flat. I was pleased to hear this, but I also made it clear that she would have her own room and space. I admire and respect this woman for being virtuous. I’m glad also because I didn’t want sex to cloud my judgement. After a couple of faux pas in my younger years, I’ve discovered that I rather have a relationship with someone I love than gratuitous sex. Call me what you will… but it’s a philosophy that has served me well.Nine o’clock rolled around and I decided to leave a little early to meet O1. I had been in the house virtually all day and I thought an evening stroll might be nice. The weather has gotten a bit colder and I found that I needed a sweatshirt this evening. I arrived via taxi in front of Tsoom department store, then I began to walk a little and observe the musicians playing on the sidewalks. The number of adults and children begging for money is astonishing… but relenting to one means relenting to all. I discovered this the hard way. Generosity to one, it seems, means saying “Nyet” to almost everyone else. In an effort to evade the panhandlers, I decided to walk directly toward a Militsia and back toward Tsoom.I still had 20 minutes to wait before O1 would arrive. I decided to sit on a wall near the underground entrance and wait. In about 5 minutes, a lovely young woman sat down next to me and asked me a question in Russian. I replied, “Ez venitsia, ya ne govoru po-ruskii. Vi govorete po-angliskii?” (“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian. Do you speak English?”) She perked up and began speaking to me in English! She spoke at an intermediate English level, but it was far-and-away better than my dismal Russian skills. She introduced herself as Natasha. She’s from Cherkassy and in Kiev on holiday, though she’s waiting to meet one of her friends in front of Tsoom also. She’s studying to be a teacher of English in school. I told her my name and where I was from. We chatted a little, but I was careful to insert that I was waiting for my girlfriend. I didn’t want any misunderstandings. Natasha clued in immediately and asked politely if it would be a problem if O1 saw that we were chatting. I said, “No” but in the back of my mind, I knew that O1 is a little jealous. I’m also a little jealous and I’m not sure what I’d think if I saw someone chatting with O1. I was careful to keep watch for O1 and to excuse myself from Natasha when O1 approached.I saw O1 out of the corner of my eye. She was beautiful under the city lights. I immediately excused myself from Natasha and approached O1 and gave her a big hug. I had missed and I think it showed. I quickly explained about Natasha and O1 understood. I waved good-bye to Natasha and wished her luck waiting for her friend.O1 and I had only 2 hours since she would need to go home and prepare for class the next day. I don’t know how she does it… to arrive at home after midnight, study and still wake by 6:00 AM and be at class at 8:30 AM. I suppose when I was in college, sleep was more of an option than it is now. I simply can’t function with less than 5 hours of sleep. O1 and I walked in search of cheesecake (her favorite.) Ultimately we decided to go to Cafй Fellini where I knew there would be cheesecake. As we approached Cafй Fellini, O1 asked how I knew about this restaurant. It then hit me that I hadn’t explained about where I had gone on my prior dates! I explained how I knew of Cafй Fellini and O1 didn’t say anything. Was she jealous, angry, tired or hungry? Maybe a combination of all of the above? As it turns out, she was more inquisitive than anything… she hadn’t known that Cafй Fellini existed. We sat down and had milkshakes and cheesecake. It was a great ending to the day. O1 worked until midnight the next day, but she’ll have to think about staying in the 2nd bedroom. I told her that if it’s convenient, she’s welcome to stay. But if not, then I didn’t want to pressure her. We had a great date even though it was a shorter one, but I went to sleep a happy man.
Day 10 – Tuesday, September 07, 2004I woke a little early this morning. It was a good thing too… because at 7:15 AM there was the ring from the doorbell. I wondered who it might be since it was rather early. I was surprised to find that it was O1. She had decided to stop-by before class this morning to drop-off her photo album. There are many pictures I would love to get a copy of and I’ll go to the local internet cafй tomorrow to have them scanned. I invited O1 in and I poured some juice for her. She had caught me mid-munch on a slice of dark Ukrainian bread. I attempted to make breakfast for her, but she declined. She would need to go to work soon. So instead, I broke-out some cookies and kept the juice flowing. I also put two packs of Oreo cookies into her purse for later. I know she will probably not eat lunch today. O1 asked me if it was OK if she would stop working this week. She wanted to try to spend more time with me. I was pleased to hear it, but I didn’t want her to suffer financially from this. So I offered to make-up the difference in her salary even though she did not ask me for this money. I would LOVE to spend more time with O1. She also asked if we could meet at 4:00 o’clock at the Kiev Connections agency today. I said “Of course, but why there?” She replied that she wanted to remove her profile. This made me happy… especially since she shared a little “secret” with me this morning. The secret? That yesterday, someone from the agency had called her and told her that a man wanted to meet with her. O1 declined the meeting and wanted to be sure that her profile was removed so she would not get further requests. I was beaming! What more could I say?At 3:15, I decided to have Sherborne Hotel’s driver take me to Kiev Connections to meet O1. As I got to Sherborne’s basement office, I encountered an American man who was just returning from the American embassy. Apparently someone had stolen his jacket along with his passport. I was a little surprised… after all, I hadn’t encountered even the least bit of trouble while I was in Kiev. But it’s naпve of me to think that crime doesn’t happen in a city of this size. My driver told me that it’s likely that someone wanted to steal the passport, change the photo and visit the United States since getting a visa to America is still virtually impossible for all Ukrainians. It seems the exception to the rule is a student visa which a large number of Ukrainian students use. My driver was no exception and spent a year in New Jersey studying and working as a light mechanic at a Ford dealership. He tells me that everyone in New Jersey was very nice. As an ex-New Yorker, I told him that he should have tried going to the other side of the river! :-PTraffic was terrible going to the Kiev Connections office. The traffic around Independence Square (the main square) and on Hreshylatik Boulevard was as bad as you might find in Los Angeles at 5:00 PM. Well, with the exception that the lines in the road are mere suggestions rather than a rule. Driving in Kiev follows simple rules: If your fender is ahead of another’s, then you have right-of-way. If you need a lane, start drifting over. As a former racing school instructor, nothing scares me in a car anymore. But I found it amusing that as random as the driving seems, there’s always a choreographed chaos occurring on the streets of Kiev. It reminds me of the old joke about the cabbie who would run all red lights but screeched to a halt at a green light because his brother might be coming the other way.I arrived at Kiev Connections a bit early… about 3:45 PM. The ride from the hotel (which usually should only take about 10 minutes) had taken 30 minutes. As luck would have it, O1 was early too and was just walking up to the agency as I had found a comfortable spot on the railing outside to lean against. Upon walking into Kiev Connection’s office, I saw at least 4 women registering themselves with the agency. And I saw the familiar, friendly staff busy at work translating and updating profiles. Brett had just walked out to help another man change money and during our time at the agency, an American man and his Ukrainian date had walked back in. This is, without a doubt, one very busy agency.O1 asked one of the girls to remove her profile. Almost at once, everyone turned to look at O1, then at myself. Had I known I was going to garner this much attention, I might have dressed more nicely! It was a nice experience and both O1 and I received some questions about what we would do next, how things progressed so quickly, etc. To be honest, it was a bit of a whirlwind of activity and questions and I’ve managed to forget almost everything about that moment. The date I had with O1 tonight was fairly uneventful. O1 feigned not to be hungry, but I think it was because she didn’t want me spending any more money on dinner for her. We went to the Nescafe cafй at the Globus Mall and found O1’s weakness: she loves cheesecake! I love cheesecake also, so I think we might be partners in crime when it comes to having cheesecake. I hadn’t had any breakfast or lunch at this point, so I had a chicken sandwich on a baguette, a glass of water and an apple blintz. O1 had the cheesecake and another cake which I can only describe as a “Cheese Curd cake.” It’s very tasty and much better than it sounds, but I don’t think we have the equivalent in America. Essentially it’s made from a curd about equivalent to our cottage cheese, but it’s sweetened (with condensed milk if my palate serves me correctly) and pressed into a cake pan that was lined with a cake or graham cracker crust. It’s then topped with a layer of gelatin (Jell-o). Overall it was tasty.We walked around Hreshyaltik a bit and I found a store that sold computers. I dove in because I’m interested in the prices of computers here in Kiev. (I might have to buy one for O1 if things work out right!) I was a bit shocked to see that the notebook computer prices were a bit steep. I had expected them to be fairly competitive to US pricing… perhaps a bit lower. But, at least in this store, the prices were a bit expensive. A off-name, locally built notebook computer with a 1.0 ghz Celeron chip, 128 MB of RAM and only a CD-ROM drive might cost $830. The Compaq and Samsung computers were considerably more expensive to the tune of roughly 11,000 Gryvnas ($2,075) Heck, my current HP notebook (1.5 ghz Centrino, 512 MB RAM, 15.4” screen, DVD RW drive) cost $1,300 in the States (refurbished.) I’ll keep looking…We did a little grocery shopping at the mall near O1’s university. It was an interesting experience as some products were familiar, and others completely not. I have not experienced buying milk in a soft pouch, for example. (Usually it’s in a paper carton.) And the curd that was used to make the cake came in a paper wrapped, semi-soft block. But the market was similar to a small market in America in all other respects. Well… with the exception of the HUGE liquor section. I was amazed at the different liquors here! And virtually all liquors you can think of is available in Kiev, including Jamesons, Bushmills and Glenfidich single-malt whiskeys. (My personal choices.)As we were exiting the grocery store (in the basement level of the mall), I thought it might be cute to walk upstairs to the stores and take a walk around. I was looking for some movies to play on my laptop that might have English or Russian subtitles. That way, O1 and I might be able to watch movies together and compare our opinions on the plot. (I don’t think O1 would enjoy the episodes of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Scrubs” I burned to DVD.) As we wandered from store to store, we found ourselves in a jewelry shop. O1 doesn’t wear earrings (she doesn’t have pierced ears) but she likes to wander in on occasion. I saw her looking at a ring in particular and it was very reasonably priced at roughly $46 US Dollars, so I decided to buy it for her. I still have no idea of what it was made of other than it looked like gold. (I suppose it might be 10K gold.) This made O1 extremely happy. I amused even myself. I was able to purchase a ring for what would have amounted to slightly more than the price of a tank of gas in America.
Day 11 – Wednesday, September 8, 2004I sit in the kitchen of my flat this morning and I’m recalling the past 11 days. I’m also looking through O1’s photo album that she’s left for me. I will take her photo album to the local internet cafй to have the pictures scanned. O1 was an adorable child and a stunning teenager. In one of her summer jobs, she worked behind a bar near the ocean in Odessa. I look upon this picture knowing that, had I been at the bar, I would have asked O1 out on a date.I’m digitally “touching-up” some photos to get rid of “red-eye” this morning. I’ll be burning them to CD from my laptop and bringing the CD to the local film developer for printing. O1 would like a set of pictures… especially the one of her with a lion.My expenses for this trip so far as as follows (this is a cumulative total):Sherborne Apt. ($85/night x 6 nights): $1,635Airport Pick-up/Drop-Off: $ 26Money Changed (at approx 5.3 grevna:$1) $ 400Money retrieved from the Bankomat (ATM) $ 500I still have incidental fees with Sherborne Apartments such as broadband fees, driver’s fees (for taking me into town), and food I’ve eaten from the room’s mini-bar. But I still have about $660 in cash on hand. I’ve been relying upon the ATM a bit more since I want to keep as much US currency on hand as possible. All told, I’m maintaining a little under $100 per day in expenses ($81 per day to be exact) but that includes expense restaurant expenses. If we removed the two dinners with I1 and S1 (at $50 and $100 respectively), that leaves us with a daily average of approximately $68 per day which includes food, taxi and excursion costs. Not bad at all.One bit of advice I received from Virtual Tourist (http://www.virtualtourist.com/
) was to keep the amount of money I took out of Ukraine (in US Currency) to less than $1,000. I thought this a bit odd, but I guess they want to ensure that you leave money in the country instead of leaving with it. I don’t know if it’s still enforced or not, but since I’m comfortably under $1,000, I won’t need to worry about this.I think my total expenditures in Ukraine for my remaining 5 days will be fairly minimal… food costs and transportation. I am already feeling a bit sad that my time in Ukraine will be coming to an end and I’ll need to make plans for coming back. I will make a reservation at Sherborne Apartments again for the week between Christmas (Western) and New Year’s Day. I won’t know if my next consulting client will permit me to have any other time off, so I’ll have to hope for a spot of luck on any impromptu visits. I’m determined to drag my friend Jim to Ukraine with me the next time. He needs a vacation.I expect O1 to arrive at the flat at 4:00 o’clock this afternoon. Her room is ready for her, but I’ve got a bit of shopping to do before she arrives. I’ve forgotten the cooking oil in the other apartment, so I’ll need to go to the supermarket to buy more oil, juice and fruit. O1’s Arrival:O1 arrived at four o’clock. I have to admit that this girl is always prompt! Maybe some of that will rub-off on me too. I’m terribly late at times and I always joke that I’d be late to my own funeral.While I was out, I bought a couple of surprises for O1. I purchased a stuffed-animal (lion) picture frame for O1. I saw that she liked it at the toy store, but she wouldn’t let me buy both the stuffed animal and the picture frame. I decided to return today to buy the picture frame. I told you I was stubborn! While I was in the mall, I decided to saunter into a store called “Collins.” O1 had seen a denim jacket that she didn’t want me to buy for her. She thought it was too expensive at 299 Gryvnas. I decided to look at the jacket again and I noticed that it had been marked-down from 299 Gryvans to 235 Gryvnas and finally to 199 Gryvnas (about $40 US.) It was on sale so I bought it. (As an Asian American, I can truthfully say that we can’t pass-up a sale!) This purchase later would prove to be the ideal gift.O1 arrived and promptly presented her with pineapple juice (her favorite.) We sat and spoke about her day a little. Her teacher at the medical university had asked her to be quiet! I was surprised! Was my darling O1 the “talker” in class? As it turns out, she’s actually the star student and the professor was a bit tired that O1 had all the answers and would blurt them out because none of the other students had volunteered an answer. My O1 was the class “know-it-all!” I couldn’t help but laugh… she truly would fit-in with my family! (I was the rebel in my family and was the class clown at times.)I thought I would surprise O1 by watching “Bruce Almighty” in Russian. Unfortunately it had just aired on TV and she had already seen parts of it. Besides, she told me that she likes horror movies a bit more. Hmm… OK, I’ll have to go back to the video store to see what they have in the way of horror movies. But I’m slowly (but surely) building my Russian Language DVD library.O1 cleaned-up a bit and we decided to go for a walk. The late afternoon air was cool and brisk… perfect for our little foot trek. We walked to Mariyinskiy Palace (home to Tsarina Elizaveta Petrova in 1752) and took in the spendor of the building and the grounds. Kiev has so much history that it’s an absolute delight for me to walk around Kiev and take it all in. The palace was built near the peak of one of the hills surrounding Kiev and overlooking the Dnipro River. There’s a place for people to look out upon the Left Bank, the Dnipro and just see how large Kiev really is. It’s a sight to behold and the pictures I took of this view don’t do it justice at all. O1 and I spent an hour at this overlook talking about her mom’s arrival in Kiev, where we might go for dinner with her mom, how her mom and dad might perceive me and the fact we met through an agency. O1 thought her father might the most resistant and that her mother might be happy for her. O1’s brother already knew about me and told O1 to tell me “Zdravstvyute!” (“Hello!”) I’ll chip away at this family acceptance one member at a time!We began to walk back to the apartment when it became dark. On the way back, we passed the President’s residence and other upper-crust housing in Kiev. O1 and I began joking about which residence was ours and we attempted to one-up each other. She later determined that as “Tsaritsa” (Queen), she might allow me to live across the street from her residence if I was her servant. I told her that my last name is “King” which immediately makes me “Tsar”… so it would be she who would find a small room across the street! It was hilarious and fun! I hadn’t done that in a while… but with O1 I felt like a child again. I enjoyed myself immensely.I thought it might be nice to find a restaurant nearby for dessert. I hadn’t had dinner, but I really wasn’t very hungry anyway. During my shopping spree, I had stopped at O’Brien’s Pub and had a pint of Apple Cider and a bowl of “Diablo Soup.” (We would call it “Chili” in America.) We walked the streets of Kiev a bit trying to find a restaurant and finally stumbled upon a posh restaurant whose name (unfortunately) escapes me. It was truly beautiful and upscale inside and we were afraid we would be woefully under-dressed. Luckily the staff were very friendly and we were seated at a table without any incident. The restaurant didn’t have cheesecake (O1’s favorite) but did have a curd-torte that O1 liked. I had the “Drunk Pear” (which was fabulous) and came with an entertaining presentation. The pear was covered in a dome of glazed sugar. The dome was then ignited by flaming cognac which melted down the sugar over the pear. It was an impressive display and I truly enjoyed eating the pear. O1 had juice and a bottle of water, and I had a cappuccino and a bottle of water also. Our total for this first-class feast was only 165 Gryvnas including gratuity (about $32 US Dollars.) For such an establishment, I considered this to be very reasonable. But next time, I will certainly dress in slacks and a shirt.We walked back to the apartment just as it began to drizzle. We turned on my notebook computer and I checked the weather forecast. It was expected to rain during the morning in Kiev and the weather would be cool (in the high 50’s Fahrenheit) during the next two days. O1 had arrived wearing a light jacket that I had bought for her a few days earlier. I knew she would need warmer clothes in the morning, so I asked her to close her eyes and gave her the present a bit early: the denim jacket. O1 was thrilled and immediately gave me a hug. She had really wanted it but didn’t want me to buy it for her. I couldn’t resist and it seemed that it would truly be useful for the next couple of days (and throughout the Autumn months in Kiev.) We spent the next couple of hours watching a bit of TV and talking about what America might be like. I connected to the internet and began showing O1 pictures of Los Angeles and Huntington Beach. She’s a little afraid at the thought of leaving Ukraine, but I assured her that America is a nice place and is safe. Terrorism on the scale of 9-11 was an anomaly and we were caught off-guard… but not again. Americans are much more vigilant now… much like most Russians are now I would imagine. We both agreed that we hate terrorists and that terrorists would be better off on a Pacific Atoll somewhere. (I didn’t add that I would use that particular Pacific Atoll for nuclear testing after we off-loaded all the terrorists, however.) As Harrison Ford said in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” about the Nazis… “I REALLY hate these guys.”O1 spent a little time talking to her friends on the phone and decided to call her mother. Her mother was already asleep but her father answered! She had a nice chat with him but decided not to mention me. Remember: He’s quite a bit conservative. O1 wants to meet with her father in person to tell him about me. We chatted for a few more minutes and decided to prepare for bed. O1 didn’t have sleepwear, so I let her borrow my Sarah McLachlan “Afterglow” tour T-Shirt. As fate would have it, the T-Shirt is forest green… O1’s favorite color. After she showered and emerged wearing this T-Shirt, I had to take a picture of her. She looked great wearing it! I gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and sent her off to bed. I cleaned-up a little, jumped into the shower myself and went to my room for the night.
Day 12 – Thursday, September 9, 2004O1 and I woke at roughly the same time… about 6:00 AM. I heard the faint tapping of rain against the window. I decided to get-up and prepare breakfast just as O1 was getting-up and heading toward the bathroom. Her smile brightened my day instantly and, after a morning hug, I walked into the kitchen with a spring in my step.I had forgotten to buy oil… so there would not be any fried eggs this morning. I decided to soft-boil some eggs and prepare different cheeses. O1 came into the kitchen where I presented her with a cup of green tea and a plate of cheeses, bread and yogurt. (How continental!) I sat down with O1 at the table and we began chatting about how we would plan our day.O1 had to attend classes at her medical university today. We decided we would meet in front of “Tsoom” department store again at 3:00 PM. In the evening, O1 had promised her aunt (her father’s sister) that she would visit. She hadn’t seen her aunt in 3 weeks and her aunt was beginning to wonder why. Considering that this is her father’s sister… I think it would be well advised to have O1 visit her aunt. After all… I understand her father will be the “hardest sell” on this whole experience!During breakfast, O1’s cell phone rang. It was her mother calling! O1 went to the bedroom to speak, so I decided to clean-up the dishes from breakfast. It was quite a long call, so I had time organize the kitchen also and to sit a bit nervously on the couch pretending to read my “Touring Kyiv” book. I don’t know if O1 noticed that I hadn’t flipped any pages or that I had read the same paragraph about 10 times… each time just as incoherently as the time before. O1 finally emerged from her room to tell me it was her mom calling. (I had gathered that as I understood the “Good Morning, mom!” part of the call.) O1 sat down next to me and told me she had told her mom about us and how I had wanted to meet her. Her mom was happy for O1 and agreed to meet with us! So our plans for the weekend will hinge around having dinner and a meeting with O1’s mother.As I walked O1 down the stairs and out of the lobby, we noticed that the rain had intensified. O1 had thought she might catch the bus to her university. I forced some money into her hands and told her to take a taxi. I attempted to walk with O1 to the street and hail a taxi for her, but she insisted that I stay at the apartment since it was cold and raining. I gave her a big hug and we reconfirmed our meeting for three o’clock.I spent most of the day indoors as the storm intensified. There was no point in going out in this weather… especially since I was ill prepared for it. I didn’t have a jacket warm enough for this weather (only a sweatshirt), so I decided to stay in the apartment and watch some movies I had brought with me from America. I watched “The Bourne Identity” which I liked, and I watched “Airplane” which surprised me because of all the comedic details of this movie I had missed as a child. When the rain subsided a bit, I ran out to the film developer around the corner and picked-up photos that I had them print from CD. (I copied digital photos to a CD on my notebook and brought them to the developer.) Those photos turned out beautifully and I’m sure O1 would be pleased with them. At 2:30, I asked the apartment’s driver to take me to Tsoom department store. The weather had worsened again, so I was glad that the driver was available. The weather was cold and I could see my breath in the air! Such an amazing change from just the week before! I didn’t wait long before O1 arrived. We decided to go to a cafeteria-style Ukrainian restaurant near the department store (and across the street from TGI Fridays.) The food was very good and amazingly cheap! A hearty meal for the both of us came to 54 Gryvans… a little over $10 US. It was nice to get away from the cold and have a hot meal too. It was a bit cold to do much walking outside, so we spent our time together walking through the underground malls and walking toward Globus. I wanted to see what the prices were on other electronic gear (such as cameras, etc.) and was equally astounded. At least computer keyboards were cheap at 89 Gryvans (about $8 US.) At 6:30 PM, it seemed all too soon that O1 needed to leave for her Aunt’s home. Where ahd the time gone?At 9:00 PM, I received a call from O1. She had visited her aunt and returned to her home (a student’s hostel.) She had thought of coming over tonight, but because the weather was cold and it was still raining quite heavily, she thought she might stay at her home. I agreed… it was a bad night to be out. I bid her a good night and I turned in for the night myself. In the morning, I would be packing and preparing to move to yet another apartment. (This one without an internet connection.) In an effort to accommodate my extended stay, Sherborne Apartments had to move me a few times. I will spend one night at this other apartment, then I will return to my first apartment (a studio) for the remaining nights I am in Kiev.
Day 13 – Friday, September 10, 2004It was a bit depressing packing my things this morning. I would only be away from the apartments for one night, but still… I would be repeating this exercise in 3 days for my trip home. On Tuesday morning, I will need to be packed and ready by 4:30 AM. My flight from Kiev will depart at 7:00 AM. I am already not looking forward to leaving. I want to stay in Kiev with O1, but in my mind I know that it’s not possible. I definitely will not look forward to the longing and loneliness I’ll feel on that plane ride home.The other apartment is near Hreshaltik Boulevard in a very central part of the city. I think the location is fantastic, but quite honestly, I preferred the main apartment complex. It had a decidedly much more western feel to it and it was very comfortable. The apartment I’m in for the night is more of a Soviet-era home, albeit with very comfortable and posh furnishings.I decided to take advantage of the location to set-out on foot. After 12 days in the city, I can find my way around the more traveled parts of Kiev fairly well. If I had do, I could walk back to Sherborne Apartments’ office even. It is overcast but not raining today and a brisk 53 degrees Fahrenheit, so I decided that I would walk to O’Brien’s again for breakfast, then to Kiev Connections to chat with Brett, then enjoy Independence Square before walking back to my apartment. I had a date with O1 at 4:00 o’clock and I wanted to ensure that I was back in time to meet O1.O1 arrived exactly at 4:00 PM and we proceeded inside Ukraina Department Store. We were on a bit of a mission: To buy gifts for O1’s mom. O1’s mom would arrive on Sunday, but I wanted to finish buying gifts so that this wouldn’t weigh heavily on my mind. I brought a bottle of California Muscat Cannelli from a Temecula winery that was intended for Khashyar and Lena’s parents. Since I couldn’t make the trip to Belarus, I thought I might make this bottle of dessert wine a present to O1’s mom. But somehow that didn’t seem adequate, so I asked O1 for other suggestions. Perfume was one that O1 thought might be a winner, so we decided to go to Ukraina Department Store to buy perfume. We ended-up with a bottle of Dolce and Gabbana perfume which O1 is sure her mom would like. As we walked through the supermarket in the basement of Ukraina Department Store, I saw some chocolates that I thought O1’s mom would like as well. I guess I’ll be showering her with gifts at this first dinner! I hope it will go well since O1’s mom speaks a little English and I suspect that I’d be barraged with the Ukrainian version of “Twenty Questions.”O1 retreated to our apartment for the evening. We broke-out the prepared food we had bought at the market and we spoke about our plans, the future and about past relationships. It was a great conversation. I’ve now come to affectionately call O1 “Tsaritsa” and she’s starting to call me “Tsar.” It’s amazingly cute and would be borderline nauseating if it weren’t happening to me.We watched a Ukrainian movie on DVD that O1 had selected. It was very well done but ultimately very sad. The movie is called "Vera's Driver" and is about a General's physically handicapped daughter who gets pregnant by a soldier who wants nothing to do with her. The General's driver falls in love with her but is being fooled by the General's advisor. In the end, the General is shot as the advisor steals secrets, the handicapped daughter (just having given birth) walks in and sees the slaying and is shot herself. And the driver escapes with the baby and flees on foot. Wow... talk about a mood-busting movie! O1 had watched it earlier in the year and said she cried. I couldn't help but think that this might have been as depressing as a Celine Dion concert.We had planned on watching a second movie but decided to speak a while over some tea and cookies. We spoke about the movie, about our favorite artists (musical and theatrical) and a variety of other things. All too soon it was 11:40 PM and we decided we should head to bed. O1 retreated to her room and I made myself comfortable on the couch. I wonder how things will work tomorrow since I’ll be in a studio apartment for the rest of the week.
Day 14 – Saturday, September 11, 2004I hadn’t slept well last night on the couch. Not because it was uncomfortable, but because I kept thinking of ways to extend my stay in Kiev. I’m sure I could find a way to stay longer, but at the expense of domestic duties at home. I will need to find a date in October or November to return to Kiev.Russian news service made notice that today is the 3 year anniversary of the September 11th attacks in New York. I am amazed that the news service in Ukraine is so globally oriented. It seems that news in America focuses solely on domestic issues and gives a five minute window for international news (with the exception of the terrorism in Beslan.) I like the fact that I can learn almost as much about America on Ukrainian news as I can by watching Ukrainian news.O1 sits on the couch with me as I write this entry. We had breakfast earlier and we’re spending quality time together before the move to the studio flat this afternoon. O1 will have her English lesson at 3:00 PM and we’ll meet at 7 o’clock for dinner. I appreciate the time that we have together but it hardly seems adequate. I think it’s particularly cute that O1 leans over and attempts to read what I’m writing. I’ve promised that I’ll translate the whole transcript into Russian for her (via a translator) and will send it to her.O1 was a bit inquisitive this morning and asked to see the profiles of the other women I met while in Kiev. It was a little surprising to hear, but I keep no secrets from O1. I should have expected this question because we spent some time yesterday and this morning comparing actors and actresses (as well as Ukrainian and Russian Pop-Music stars) trying to determine what the other thought might be attractive. If I mentioned that someone was very attractive, O1 would playfully raise her fist. I ‘m still not sure if this means that she’ll pummel me or the starlet, but I’m not about to test that scenario at all. I’m amazingly happy with O1 and for me, that’s enough. I pulled-up the web pages for each of the women I was to meet. I started with V1. O1 opened her eyes wide as she recognized her! V1 was in the Kiev Connections office when O1 was there. O1 didn’t think V1 was very attractive. Next was I1, and I explained to O1 how I1 was just not a very good match for me. Last was S1 and O1 recollected immediately that she was the expensive dinner-date. I explained how I hadn’t felt well after dinner and decided to end the date early. And since that time (a week ago) I hadn’t called. Terrible, I know… I should be more of a gentleman and have called S1 to explain the situation, but I was far to content and focused on spending time with O1 to really be bothered.We decided to eat lunch a bit early today… about 11:00 o’clock. I wanted to take O1 to an Indian restaurant tonight… but we may go to the Moda Bar instead. I know it’s a bit pricey (per O1) but I’d like to go sometime before I leave Kiev. Besides, O1 had mentioned that she had been there once and liked it very much. O1 decided to depart a bit early so she might clean some clothes for this coming week and prepare for her English lesson. I waited for my driver to arrive and thought about what I might do for the day. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do. Well… that’s not exactly true. I had thought about trying to set-up a new email account for O1, but I decided that I would do this from the comfort of our apartment later in the evening. No point in creating an account and finding-out that she can’t understand the website. O1 and I had discussed how often I’d call from America… and we agreed to 3 times per week. I am sure that those days that I don’t call will be very difficult for me.
Day 15 – Sunday, September 12, 2004Last night, O1 persuaded me to eat at home. We went to one of the local magazines (local store) and bought fruit, salami, cheese, bread, juice and cookies. We then came back to my flat and ate dinner while watching TV and a DVD on my laptop computer. I really wanted to take O1 out to dinner, but she didn’t want to go out. I suspect that part of it was because she was a bit tired after her English lesson, and part was because she didn’t want me spending money on her. We settled in and watched “The Butterfly Effect” on DVD. I had hoped that there would be English subtitles, but there weren’t. So we settled for English audio and Russian subtitles. It was a surprisingly good film despite the fact that I’m not a fan of Ashton Kucher. O1 watched in suspense as did I and we discussed the film a little after the end. After that, we cleaned the apartment a little and settled-in for the night. Our studio apartment has a king-sized bed and a sleeper sofa. I selected the sleeper sofa and made my bed. I warned O1 that I might snore a bit, but I had thought ahead and brought some snore strips. O1 was amused by these snore strips since they’re not available in the Ukraine. I placed one on her nose to see what she thought. We both laughed when the strip was placed firmly on her nose.Both O1 and I woke at 6:00 AM. O1 always wakes at this time to prepare for school. I seem to be consistently waking at 6:00 AM while on this trip to Ukraine. I asked O1 if I had snored during the night, especially since I had managed to remove my snore-strip sometime during the night. O1 had said that I snored a little, but it wasn’t bothersome. I was glad to hear it! I think I’ll be using the snore strips a bit more often!We prepared breakfast this morning while watching TV. O1 would leave at 8:30 to meet her mom who had arrived in Kiev last night. I would meet O1’s mom at 2:00 o’clock. This would give me time to iron my slacks and shirt, shine my shoes and run down to the underground to buy two roses; one for O1, and one for her mom. We would go to an early dinner together where I’m sure I’ll endure scrutiny and many questions. I’m a bit nervous. In my profession, I speak to a large audience on occasion and I’ve found my comfort zone. I can easily speak to a room of 10 top executives or 500 people in an auditorium and still maintain composure without any feeling of uneasiness. But my dinner meeting with O1’s mother makes me very nervous and the thought of eventually meeting her very-conservative father just petrifies me.1:30 PM rolled around quickly. A bit too quickly if you ask me. But I had pressed my slacks and ironed a shirt, so I was prepared. I quickly showered, threw-on my shoes, gathered my gifts for O1’s mom and ran downstairs. I was about 5 minutes early, so I leaned against the wall and enjoyed the Autumn breeze. The leaves have started to turn golden, red and orange and the breeze brought new leaves swirling around my feet. I love this time of year. Just as I looked up, O1 and her mom were approaching. I walked up to them, managed to stumble through and introduction and presented O1’s mom with a rose, a bottle of California Muscat Cannelli, and a bottle of Dolce & Gabbana perfume (which she loved.)We jumped into a cab and drove to a Mexican Restaurant that O1 had seen on television the night before. The restaurant (Mamba) actually had very good Mexican food, but it’s a bit upscale in pricing. I wanted to make a good impression with O1’s mom, so money was hardly an issue. O1’s mom (we’ll refer to her as A1) and I got along just fine and I really took a liking to her. She definitely had a sense of humor and I felt at ease with her. After lunch, we headed over to the Zoo (“Zoo Park” in Russian) and enjoyed looking at the animals. It was a great afternoon and I felt great speaking to A1. (Her English is a bit limited and we referred to the dictionary and O1’s interpreting for us often.)The day ended with O1 and A1 at 6:00 PM. A1 needed to catch a train back to Kharkiv (O1’s hometown) and O1 needed to study for her classes tomorrow. I received three hugs from A1 before she got into the car. (I think she’s accepted me!) I said good-bye to O1 and we agreed to meet at Tsoom department store again at 3:00 PM tomorrow afternoon.I took a taxi back to my apartment. On the way back to the apartment, we passed Hreshaltik Boulevard and I saw that the streets were closed-off for foot traffic. I had forgotten today was Sunday! I decided I would go back to my apartment, grab extra Gryvnas and head back to Hreshaltik. I had a mission… to buy one of O1’s final gifts for this trip. Earlier in the day, I had bought the last-day (last-morning?) gift… an Italian made stuffed lion (Trudi). I would be on a mission to UniWorld to buy a notebook computer for O1. That way she would be able to keep in touch via email and instant messenger when the weather gets cold and she won’t need to wander away from the student’s hostel at night to find an internet cafй. A bit pricey for a gift? Perhaps, but I can openly say that I love this woman and I’ve asked her to be my wife. She accepted and her mother was thrilled when O1 told her.Some might say this decision was a bit brash. Actually, I had asked O1 a few days earlier and just had not written about it. It was a bit difficult to explain, but I’ve finally developed the words. Love is a feeling of the heart, not the mind. If you use your mind, you can rationalize anything. But when the desire comes from the heart, sometimes you just need to go with it. I had committed myself to meeting people on this trip, but the amount of time I spent with O1 just cemented the feeling in my heart. I decided to throw logic aside and pursue an adventure of the heart.I walked into UniWorld and found the salesman that I spoken to in the past. He recognized me and we looked at a couple of notebook computers. I selected an HP computer for O1 that had an impressive list of features (including DVD/CD-RW drive) for 7034 Gryvnas. (About $1,327 US Dollars.) I happened to purchase the notebook computer at a good time since I was rewarded with a in-store gift credit for 400 Gryvna. I’m sure O1 can use.After the purchase, I decided to walk along Hreshaltik Boulevard. It would be the last time during this trip I would be able to enjoy this scene with people filling the streets since the street closure only happened on weekends. I bought a beer (.5 liter) and a street vendor’s hot dog, then sat back to watch a mime perform on the streets just as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons piece began playing elsewhere on the street. I continued down Hreshaltik Boulevard and stopped to listen to a man playing an electric mandolin. It was absolutely beautiful and I watched him play even as the streetlights began illuminating the dusk. It was all a bit surreal. I realized then how vibrant and alive Kiev is. I loved my time here and I’ll miss it dearly.
Day 16 – Monday, September 13, 2004I woke at 6:30 this morning with a sense of dread. I knew that in 24 hours time, I would be sitting on an airplane and waiting for all passengers to board for a 7:00 AM departure to Amsterdam. My eyes watered a bit as I thought of Olga and leaving Kiev behind. Today’s plans called for buying a cake (torte) for the Kiev Connections office and to bring a bottle of Bushmill’s Whiskey to Brett Ousley. I had also brought the whiskey for Khashyar and Lena’s parents. Since I didn’t make the trip to Mogilev, I thought I might make it a gift for Brett. Other plans today included organizing my luggage and preparing for my last night. At 4:00 AM, I would have to get-up and shower. At 4:30, the driver would be taking Olga and me to the airport. And at 5:00 AM, I would be hugging Olga good-bye, head toward the customs desk and clearing my luggage.I had asked the Sherborne Apartment staff if the apartments might be filled for late October or early November. I know that they are always busy (as evidenced by the many people I’ve seen come-and-go while I’ve been here in Kiev) but they assured me that they would find accommodations for me. I would rent a larger apartment (2 bedroom) the next time since I intended to drag my friend Jim along with me.My trip totals come to:Sherborne Apt. ($85/night x 6 nights): $1,635Airport Pick-up/Drop-Off: $ 26Internet connection and mini bar fees: $ 75Money Changed (at approx 5.3 grevna:$1) $ 500Money retrieved from the Bankomat (ATM) $ 900Laptop Computer $1,327Excluding the laptop (since it was a gift) and lodging, I’ve spent approximately $1,501 dollars while I’ve been in Kiev. That’s an average of just slightly over $100 per day. By western standards, that’s excellent. But (again) if we exclude the rather expensive dinners, we’re at approximately $1,350 or $90 per day. That includes excursions, movies, zoo-park, dinners with Olga’s mom, gifts for Olga’s mom, flowers, and (of course) the smaller gifts for Olga. To me, that’s an entirely acceptable standard for having a relatively posh lifestyle while in Kiev. It’s easily possible to spend far less money here if you wanted to. Olga’s insistence to cook dinner at home is an excellent example.Olga finished school early and met at 1:00 PM at the apartment. We went to visit Brett and his staff at the Kiev Connections office. I wanted to thank Brett and his staff for his excellent services and for connecting me with Olga. And I have to thank Tanya (my translator) for doing a superb job for our first two meetings. Without Tanya, things would have gotten off to a rockier start.During the last 5 weeks, Brett had 10 engagements and 2 people were attempting to have a Ukrainian wedding this week. I am glad that others have found their soul-mates as well! I would love to follow-up with Brett in the coming year and see how things are progressing and if the frequency of engagements keeps escalating.I’m counting down the hours until I leave. I’m a little tired too, but I don’t want to waste my time with Olga by sleeping. I have time enough for that on my airplane ride back to the United States. Repeatedly Olga has asked me to stay and she’s jokingly scheming to stow-away in my luggage. I want to stay also… and I’m thinking of how I might accomplish that. But I know that I have to go home. My finances are a bit stretched since I’ve stayed in Kiev longer than anticipated. (I had originally planned to go to Belarus where my dollars would stretch much further.) But still… if there were any way I could stay in Kiev longer, I would have.Day 17 – Tuesday, September 14, 2004 (early morning Epilogue)I did manage to sleep a little… probably around 3 hours. Olga had gone to sleep at 10:30 PM and I had chatted online via Instant Messenger with my buddy Jim back home. Every few minutes, I would glance over and see Olga sleeping quietly. I could watch her for hours.I prepared my bed and it only seemed like an instant that I was asleep. In the blink of an eye, it was 3:38 AM. I closed my eyes hoping that it was a bad dream, but a few minutes later, I checked my watch again and it was 3:45 AM. It was close enough to the time that I needed to be awake, so I got up as quietly as I could and took a shower. When I had finished my shower, I walked out of the bathroom to find Olga already up, sitting in a chair with a solemn look upon her face. Her bed was made and she had cleaned-up the sheets from my bed. I looked upon her and my eyes started to water. We hugged. I didn’t want to leave.
This is an abbreviated version of Robert’s posting. Here are only his daily reports without the comments and postings of other members. Top see the entire commentary please seehttp://www.russianmeetingplace.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2900&page=5&pp=15Return To Kiev Connections Home Page