If you take the B train to the Brighton Beach stop and descend the elevated subway tracks, you can either turn left, walk up the street and see a vast beach and a wide wooden boardwalk that leads to Coney Island, or, you can just walk under the tracks on Brighton Beach Street and... just be in Russia. This neighborhood under the tracks is, or was, the home of the Russian mafia, but it's home to many, many Russians and other ethnicities today for sure. We felt like we traveled through the Twilight Zone to Eastern Europe AND to the most ghetto amusement park in the world, all at one stop at the southern tip of Brooklyn.
We started by wading in Jamaica Bay (that's what the map says) with hundreds of other New Yorkers. I honestly had no idea that this kind of beach existed just a mere half hour subway ride away, but there it was. Of course Long Island is where the real beaches are, but I guess I won't be seeing those. Anyway, we walked along The Boardwalk (of the song), had a Coney Dog at Nathan's (I maintain that hot dogs cannot be great), contemplated "Shooting the Freak" (yes, there was a "Live Freak" who danced around in a goggled helmet and shield while little kids took shot with paintball guns as a Sean Penn look alike yelled "Shoot the freak, shoot the freak...anyone want to shoot the freak?") and went on the Wonder Wheel, a huge monstrosity of a ferris wheel right in the middle of this tacky carnival. As we looked down on the little rides, I mentioned that the rust on this ferris wheel spoke of very old age. Sure enough, when we got down, Kristina, who had chosen wisely not to go on The Wheel, had a little history lesson for us. It is the highest and oldest ferris wheel in the world. I'm glad I'm off of it, the only good thing about the ride being the view of the beach and the breeze the height offered on this very hot day.
After the carnival, we headed to Russia to find a Oygur restaurant we had heard about. Don't ask me what Oygur is...it's something Russian. We ordered a few salads, some dumpling looking things and some skewers. The food was OK, but what was really great was the table next to us, where three burly men sat eating and drinking vodka, speaking so loudly in Russian that we couldn't hear each other, and falling over the table as they left. One guy came back, opened the door and said something to us, then left. By the tone, we think he was apologizing, but who knows!
Last night we had a party out on the I-House terrace, a sort of a end of the seminar party. It was fun, but I admit, it is very bittersweet to watch it come to a close. Not the China part...we are all a little sick of China. In fact, after the party, we went to a local bar and toasted "no more China" and then we had the best speaker of the session this morning... a sociologist from Yale who spoke about China's economy. Anyway, we are all in awe over what we have been able to experience this month, and, well, connections like these are rare and spectacular.
I'm going to leave you with a few pictures...the first is Kristina being gangsta on the subway coming home (this train goes over the Manhattan Bridge, and we crossed it at sunset) and the other is Noemi from Seattle (she teaches at John Stanford International School), and she is eating a slice of Koronet Pizza from down the street. Noemi is a little short, but not THAT short. This slice is huge. It costs three dollars, and the other night when I bought one to go, I felt something burning my elbow. It was the slice, so long that it peaked its way out of the bag and burned me. *I only ate half.