Friday, January 15, 2010

Cam Defends Moscow Nightclubs Against Anti-Alcohol Campaign

Here I am defending the poor harmless Moscow nightclub industry against President Medvedev's new anti-alcoholism crusade.

Unfortunately they edited my stellar argument that in fact nightclubs & bars actually assist the fight against alcoholism by providing a safe & responsible location to consume high-quality liquor.

I start at 6:45 into the segment.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Hobby? Cam Joins a church choir

For those of you who seem to think my life in Moscow only consists of drinking and partying, my latest segment on Russia Today has me joining a church choir.

My segment starts about 5 minutes in.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Miss Atom 2008: A Glowing Review

Just when I think beauty pageants in Russia can't get more absurd and we should just drop the topic altogether (even after the greatest hits of Miss Gulag, Miss Red Army, and Miss Finance- I wonder what sweet "Miss Pension Fund" is doing these days after the collapse of the ruble?), along comes something even more random: Miss Atom.

Once again, I am not kidding, check it out for yourself at

It's the beauty pageant for the women of the Russian nuclear industry, and all spheres of the sector are able to participate- mining, processing, waste storage, reactor technicians- you name it. As far as I can see- If she's exposed to radiation, she's eligible to enter (although I don't think this includes people who drink Moscow tap water).

In a burst of good news for those nuclear technicians in far-flung corners of Siberia and Tajikistan, the contest is also open to "girls working at nuclear entities of former USSR states" from 18-35 years of age.

Apparently the pageant is then opened to voters from across the Internet, and a tally is kept of the number of votes for each girl (apparently you can give one vote per distinct head, an advantage to those who got a little too close to the reactor). The resulting tally in my opinion, does somewhat eerily tie to high rad counts from radiation exposure, but let's not spoil the joy of the contestant's day with mundane health issues or observations on the state of the Russian nuclear industry.

In a stroke of environmental genius and a credit to how the nuclear industry is working to burnish its green credentials, apparently the awards ceremony was a carbon-neutral event, given no electricity was required to light or heat the venue, thanks to the warm glow of the contestants.

Credit to Ariel B and, a source of inspirational anecdotes of Russian life.

Local News: 12-hour Viagra-fuelled orgy ends in death

Sometimes the local news is too entertaining not to share:

12-hour Viagra-fuelled orgy ends in death

THIS was one bet Sergey Tuganov was determined to win.

British newspaper, The Sun, reports the 28-year-old Russian man died after taking a bottle of Viagra pills for an apparent 12-hour sex romp.

Two women told Moscow police they bet Tuganov $US4300 that he wouldn't be able to satisfy them during a non-stop half day sex marathon.

The mechanic died of a heart attack minutes after winning the wager, Moscow police said.

"We called emergency services but it was too late, there was nothing they could do," said one of the female participants who identified herself only as Alina.

Medics said he most likely died from the quantity of Viagra he had ingested.

There are 30 pills in an average 100mg bottle of Viagra.

Story courtesy of Adam R &

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Arctic Wedding

I just returned to Moscow having (barely) survived that most quintessential of Russian experiences- the shotgun wedding. Not any shotgun wedding mind you, but one that required me to jump on a plane, fly due north several hours and then drive into the Arctic wilderness from Arkhangelsk to find a little-known town who's raison d'etre is building nuclear submarines (those things are HUGE), and as such until several years ago was closed to the outside world. I was the first foreigner that many people I ran into had ever met.

Legend has it that problems with the nuclear plant at the factory is responsible for out of control birth defects, strange illnesses, and glowing, funny-smelling water flowing from the taps, but we didn't let that bother us (I don't think we drank anything but Sovetskoe Shampanskoe or vodka for the 36 hours we were there). The locals assured us that in summer the local beaches (currently buried under 10 feet of snow) are pristine and have great swimming. Apparently using icebergs as diving platforms is also a fun custom for the local children.

The delightful town of Severodvinsk recently celebrated its 70th birthday, yet like many small Soviet towns, it seemed somewhat stuck in the past, with the main streets of Karl Marx, Gagarin, Soviet Avenue and of course Lenin (with a rather chilly-looking Lenin peering out over the square) marking all points of the compass, and seemingly all points of life in this forgotten corner of the world.

Undeterred, Katya, Luda & I boarded a plane to this wilderness (a delay allowing us to demolish several bottles of wine at the airport), and were soon careening through the frozen wilderness with the Arctic's answer to Michael Schumacher at the wheel of his hotted up Lada (little did we know he was to be the Best Man). The local landscape reminded me of a f**king cold version of Azerbaijan, as we flashed past rusting derricks still pumping oil out of the icy tundra. Even in this strange frozen universe we were reminded that smoking was probably not in our best interests.

As this was the hometown of the soon-to-be husband of Katya & Luda's friend (that none had met), we were billeted to the best accommodation to be found- an ancient one-room apt with fold-out couch supported by a board on a fifth-floor walkup on Industrialnaya Avenue. Not to be deterred, Katya & I shared a romantic Valentine's Day dinner of salami, frozen vegetables and ramen noodles procured from the local Produkti (which sold little else).

The next morning dawned bright, snowy, and a balmy -15, warm weather for these parts. For those of you unfamiliar with Russian weddings, there are many fascinating traditions that may strike Western observers as curious. As Luda (the Maid of Honour) and Katya prepared for the festivities, I watched in alternate wonder, shock and horror as generously-sized middle-aged female family members contorted themselves into outfits better suited for svelte 15-year olds, with a sense of fashion and colour palette to match. The first tirade of the morning from our highly-strung bride was directed at a hamster-sized dog, whose minute teeth had apparently feasted on the bride's shoes during the night. I took the opportunity to open the first of many bottles of sickly-sweet (warm) Soviet Champagne, to calm the hordes of stressed out women roaming the apartment.

It's unclear exactly what happened next. The groom and his entourage appeared at the door to the apartment complex and were confronted by Katya & Luda, apparently intent to either safeguard the bride's chastity, or at least extort the highest price possible from the poor groom (this is Russia, after all). Eventually, after writing her name on the floor in cash, the groom was permitted to enter and we prepared for the trip to ZAGS.

ZAGS- I'd heard this term uttered in hushed tones since my arrival in Russia, one of the revered four-letter acronyms (like the all-powerful MKAD*), that can strike fear, envy, or passion into the heart of the Russian soul. Unlike Western weddings, most Russian ceremonies are not performed in a church, so this relic from Soviet times performs a ceremony and marriage register all-in-one in an ingenious conveyor-belt-like function.

At any given time, there were approximately six brides and entourages present, and the waiting hall looked like someone had set off a grenade in a fluorescent taffeta and flower shop. Each wedding party had approximately ten minutes to be hustled into the waiting rooms, convene in the hall, get obligatory photos taken (with Putin and Medvedev looking on), and then convene for the ceremony itself, solemnly sworn in under the watchful eye of Russia's double-headed eagle. The wedding party is told to clap, and then shunted through a side-door into an ante-room, where an assistant has already poured more Soviet Champagne, and the whole group is given a generous three minutes to drink.

After that, another side door opens, and it's back into the snow, while another fur-clad bride is hustled into the entrance. Money is hurled in the general direction of the married couple (occasionally causing minor lacerations) while street children scurry around scooping as much change up as possible. It's quite surreal.

The next exciting tradition is that the bridal party tours around the city eating caviar and drinking more Soviet Champagne while having photos taken in special places, such as the entrance to the city in -20 degrees, next to Lenin's outstreched hand, outside the submarine factory, and on a promontory sticking out into the White/Barents Sea. This last one got me particularly excited, as I could satisfy a lifelong dream of running around on top of the frozen ocean. Given it was cold, snowy, and the damn frozen ocean went on forever, I quickly tired of this and joined the rest of the wedding party for vodka shots.

After the bride's third tantrum of the day, we retreated under fire to the nearby Stolovaya (Soviet canteen), where the tables were laid with all the russian specialties we could think of, and more vodka than I could jump over. More Russian traditions ensued, but as the evening became increasingly blurry, I'm not sure exactly how they all fit together.

Patchy memories include stashing vodka and Soviet champagne in the snow (in such a cold country, why is it so hard to get a chilled drink?), dancing Can-Can, a strange furry-costumed character attacking the groom, Katya losing her phone, trying to prevent the chain-weed-smoking bridal party from sliding off the front steps, being locked out of the Stolovaya by an aggrieved bridesmaid because I refused to kiss her, wowing the crowd with my stunning duet rendition of "Hotel California" by karaoke (it wasn't difficult, Luda & I were the only English speakers), paying 1000r for a slice of wedding cake, and somehow making it back to our little apartment, with Luda ending up on a camp bed in the kitchen after trying to persuade the bride and groom not to divorce the next morning.

At 4am, Katya and I hauled ourselves back on the road to Arkhangelsk and Moscow, still trying to piece together the randomness of the previous 36 hours.

All I can say is: Russian weddings are a lot of fun.

Photos are here.
Worldguide: Are you kidding?

* The MKAD is the outer ring road of Moscow, a twenty-lane behemoth that seems to be held in great reverence by Muscovites, and trips beyond it are held in regard similar to those reserved for early-century Antarctic explorers.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

It was (Orthodox) Xmas Eve, -15C, snowing, and after midnight, so some friends & I logically decided to head to a waterpark outside of Moscow for a wild night of watersliding with DJ's, dancing girls, and the finest wave pool Moscow has to offer.

For the rest of the story, see this post on MoscowMAXIMUM.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Festive Season Update

Some of you have noticed that the volume of posts drops off considerably when I'm home in Moscow. While life here is certainly interesting, engaging, and otherwise fascinating, and there are plenty of things to write about (although many of them don't fit into the "family-friendly" category), it's just that "normal" life here is more or less like normal life anywhere else, it's just a lot colder, in a strange language, and people doing bizarre things for obscure cultural reasons- nothing that my readers would find interesting. Oh, and there is also obscene amounts of drinking, partying and debauchery, but that's hardly notable, is it?

The last month or so have found me still camped out at my long-suffering friend Guri's place, while I reacclimatise to Moscow and start my new business (more about that later). Although in the melee of regular partying, you could be excused for not realising it's the holiday season (until all the expats flee Moscow for home or warmer climates as the temperatures approach -20).

Not wanting to miss an excuse to celebrate, I organised a Christmas dinner and party on the 25th December (Russian Xmas isn't until the 7th Jan), and some photos of our very Merry Xmas are below:

The Boys at Opera

Cam, Khristo, and those infamous "Red Shaker" shots, appropriate colour for Xmas!

Nothing says "Moscow Xmas" like Opera Club!

Cam, Gil, Guri & Ariel in the Spirit of Xmas!

Anya & Nastya sharing the Spirit of Moscow Xmas

A week later the real party season got under way with New Years Eve (the main celebration in Russia). I spent New Years Eve on the streets of Moscow with Katya watching the fireworks next to the Kremlin and Red Square, before retreating to my favourite bar:

A view of Tverskaya, with over a million people on the streets of the centre of Moscow to celebrate New Years Eve

Katya & sparklers on the streets!

A horde of Santa's on the Metro en route to the centre

Champagne on the streets of Moscow- Happy New Year!

Fireworks above the Duma (Parliament) opposite the Kremlin

Nothing like a bottle of vodka, a kalyan, and Garage Love to bring in the New Year Moscow-style!

And lest you think life in Moscow is about nothing other than partying, I even managed a cultural expedition to Alexandrov, a Golden Ring town about 150km north of Moscow, famous for its Kremlin and ancient monastery. It was beautiful, but cold, buried under the snow in about -15C:

Friday, December 12, 2008

New Domain Name-

I've finally jumped on the technological bandwagon and now have my own domain!

You can update your bookmarks to: (especially you, Mum!)

It still redirects to blogspot, but anything to make your lives easier.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Cam's Obvious Lesson of the Weekend

When these guys storm the nightclub you happen to be in, giving them attitude is not a good idea.

Ahhh... There's no place like home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nicaragua: Volcanomania

Another day, another quaint colonial town with lots of multicoloured buildings fringed by volcanoes. Avid readers of my blog (and let's face it- who isn't?) could be forgiven for thinking I was back in beautiful Antigua, Guatemala.

But wait... The temperature is about a billion degrees, the place is run-down as anywhere I've seen, and there are mobs of protesters trying to dislodge the Government (this type of quasi-peaceful popular demonstration would never happen in gun-ridden Guatemala). It must be Nicaragua!

Nicaragua is a somewhat delightful Central American haven for people who love volcanoes, lakes, colonial towns, unspoiled Caribbean coast, and high temperatures. In my hobbled state after my foot lost an argument with a Belizean glass bottle, my dreams of climbing great volcanoes and surfing the Pacific swell had to be put on hold, but I spent a pleasant few days hanging out in Granada, visiting nearby volcanoes and lakes, and hanging out with my b-school traveller friend Kenna (featured in such posts as Guatemala & Nepal). I particularly enjoyed the national food of Nicaragua- the hot dog. They're sold everywhere. For something a little more local, the Nacatamale was particularly tasty (kind of like a kitchen sink tamale).

In case I haven't already driven this point home, Nicaragua is home to something like 12 major (mostly active) volcanoes, and about 40 other dormant ones. Everywhere on the horizon you can see a smoking volcano, and some of the country's most striking scenery, like Omatepe Island in Lake Nicaragua is formed by two volcanos joined by a lava bridge, reaching over 1,600m high with a large plume of smoke and ash from the more active crater. This creates a cool landscape. I had the chance to visit Masaya volcano, home to a long history of eruptions, about 5 different craters ranging from lakes to boiling lava pits, and thousands of hyperactive bats who themselves erupt from the dormant lava tubes every night to feast on the local population (OK, maybe not- I hear they're vegetarian).

Granada itself is a quaint town, with a combination of rotting and restored Spanish architectural treasures, bustling markets, and an olfactory onslaught. My favourite time was in the evenings, when locals would move their rocking chairs onto the deserted streets to take advantage of the slightly lower temperatures and watch the world go by, their living rooms open to the streets and passers-by. As you might guess, there wasn't much in the way of nightlife.

As increasingly strident protests mounted across the country as a result of a disputed presidential election and rumours of an airport lockdown intensified, I figured it was time to start the long journey home. A slightly earlier flight and a delightful overnight in the Travelodge LAX en route to Moscow reinforced not only how much I dislike Los Angeles, but also how much I was looking forward to being back in Russia, this this crazy country I now call home, many month of travels behind me, looking forward to starting a new business in Moscow in the new year.

Photos are here.

Worldguide is here.