NOVOSIBIRSK: Russians often joke that some Americans still believe bears walk the streets in Russia. While I didn't expect to see any, I also didn't expect to see many people walking around with pedigree dogs. This woman was returning from the veterinarian. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that they are wearing matching colors.
Maria, 25, who is finishing her 6-year degree in graphic design in Ulyanovsk, is one of the few Russians not keen about traveling to Europe, a destination cherished for its well-perserved, historical towns.
Maria said she is rather passionate about the world of the future, which inspires her graphic designs, and chose to visit Dubai and Hong Kong, two cities known for their modern skyscrapers, on her first overseas trips…
A Moscow metro pulled in and out of the station, but these two girls remained sitting at the back of the empty platform around midnight, playing with their phones as they waited for a friend. They said they were sisters, born in Kyrgyzstan but living in Moscow already many years. The girl on the left said she was studying humanities at a university. ''I want to be a choreographer. I love dancing, especially street dance.'' Her older sister was studying law.
Katya, 28, was taking a break outside the high-end fashion showroom in Rostov that she works at. She said they offer European fashion for the city's wealthier inhabitants. Katya said she would like to become a 'buyer' for her company and travel to Europe to pick out the clothing that will be displayed in the showroom. I asked her about the latest fashion trends in Rostov. ''Over the past few years, people have become more fashionable - with their own individual style - especially young people. Four years ago, there were just a handful of such people.'' ''Lately, I have seen a lot of hipsters, girls are starting to wear various, interesting layers. And I often see people wearing military style and sometimes grunge.''
KHABAROVSK: Natasha, dressed in a 'New York' winter hat, was leaving her university with three girlfriends. She said she was studying public service, following in her dad's footsteps and planned on staying in Khabarovsk. I asked what changes she would like to see in her city. "I would really like to see a ferris wheel built," she said. "And that our educational system resembled America's a bit - where you can choose your own subjects; cheerleaders, swimming and beautiful cafeterias." Several people I spoke with in the Far East commented - like Natasha - that there aren't enough recreational or entertainment spots in their cities.
He was riding a bicycle along the snowy and icy streets of Poronaisk, a town of about 15,000 on Sakhalin Island, with his fishing gear on his back. He was coming from the river, where hundreds of people were ice fishing. He said it was difficult to bike as the roads were icy. He described himself as a retired electrician that has been fishing his whole life. ''Fishing is in our blood,'' he said.
Anya, Nelli and Nastya were walking in the center of Vladivostok, each wearing a trendy black winter hat with the words 'BOY,' 'New York,' and 'Vogue' written on them. The teenagers said they - like many others in the Russian Far East - would like to move to St. Petersburg, where the cost of an apartment is similar. ''There are more prospects for artists there and it is more developed,'' said Nastya, who loves to paint. ''There are more museums, plenty of places to walk around and it's close to Moscow.''
Alina (right) and Sasha were eating fast food and drinking milk shakes on a sunday Friday afternoon at Royal Burger, the McDonald's of Russia's Far East region. Alina, an 8th grader, said she liked rap and hard rock, adding that her favorite musicians were Marilyn Manson and Oliver Sykes. She said she came across Marilyn Manson and his music through the Internet.
Aniket, 16, was standing near a metro in Moscow dressed in a colorful outfit. He said he was half Indian and half Russian. ''My dad came from a poor family in Rajistan. He was studying and working as a courier, when one day, a friend said to him 'Want a job in Russia?' It was right after the Soviet collapse and Aniket's dad took the opportunity, working about 10 years for a company in Moscow that sold Indian tea. Aniket said his dad met his Russian mom at that job. Now his dad runs his own business selling Indian tea and spices in Russia, Kazakhstan and Canada. Aniket, who plans on studying economics, said he may help run his dad's business when he finishes his university studies.
As I have mentioned before, Starbucks in Moscow attracts an interesting crowd. These two young women were enjoying a salad and coffee as they played with their laptop, when I interrupted them. They said they were from Japan and had come to Moscow to study ballet. Russia is well known for its excellence in ballet, so not a surprise they would choose to study here. They said they were finishing their third and last year in Moscow and would like to dance in Europe.