My Worst Experiences Abroad: Part 2, Creepy Characters

Note: This is part 2 of a series on my travel “Horror Stories”– the most painful, creepy and uncomfortable experiences that I’ve had while outside of the United States. The point of me sharing these experiences is to encourage everyone to embrace the good and the bad when it comes to traveling, and find ways to grow from negative experiences. (Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced anything seriously life threatening while traveling.)

Some of these stories can be pretty comical now that they are over and done with. Others are just scary, no matter how you look at them. Either way, I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences!

Part 2: Creepy Characters

St. Petersburg, Russia: August 2016

While staying at a hostel in St. Petersburg, Mariia and I were frequent visitors to a nearby Starbucks inside of a large shopping mall. We visited this Starbucks at least once a day to rest and refuel in between shopping and sightseeing.

 

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Inside a Russian Starbucks. (Not my image. Image source: http://archive.boston.com/business/articles/2007/09/07/starbucks_opens_first_shop_in_russia_with_a_cappuccino)

One day while we were sitting at a table in the Starbucks drinking coffee and talking (in English) we noticed that something was off with the young man and woman sitting a few tables away. Even though I don’t speak Russian, it was easy for me to see that something was wrong—the conversation was pretty much one-sided, with the man doing all the talking in a hostile tone and the woman sitting completely still, staring back at the man with wide eyes.

Mariia began to listen in on the conversation to see if she could figure out what was going on, and she translated a few bits of the conversation for me:

 

Woman: “I’m just not comfortable talking to a stranger whom I just met on the street.”

Man: “This is not the street, this is a very nice coffee shop.”

 

Man: “Well, if you’re not interested, I can find one hundred women who are better than you.”

 

At that moment we realized that the woman was being harassed by a man she didn’t know. Unsure what to do, we decided that we should at least stay at the Starbucks until one of them left or the conversation ended somehow. We continued to discuss the situation quietly, until suddenly we heard the man’s voice directed towards us in loud, aggressive English):

“Hey, how do you like Russia?” he asked in the most intimidating way possible.

Mariia and I both stared straight ahead at each other, pretending not to hear him.

“Hey, I’m talking to you!” the man said, pushing the row of furniture in between where he was sitting and where we were so that the empty table next to us bumped ours and wobbled our empty drink cups. When the table hit ours we both automatically turned to face him, but we still didn’t say a word.

With that, the man mumbled something (Mariia told me after that he had said in Russian “I knew you could understand me”) then got up and walked away.

Mariia spoke to the woman in Russian for a few moments, asking if she was okay and if she needed someone to stay with her for a while.

The woman explained that she had never met the man before in her life, and that he had started talking to her on the street and followed her into the Starbucks when she tried to ignore him. Then the woman said the she was going to meet her friend in the mall, dialed a number on her phone and left in the opposite direction that the man had. We never saw either of them again.

I remember clearly the wave of terror that hit me when the man pushed the furniture at us, but I felt even more frightened for the Russian woman who had been confronted. I felt a strange sense of unfortunate solidarity with her, because witnessing this incident reaffirmed for me the fact that women all over the world experience confrontations like this at some point in their lives.

 

Beijing, China: August 2016

Side note: This event occurred right before the 19 floors incident, which you can read about here.

One late night in Beijing, Mariia and I were returning from a night out to her friend’s apartment where we were staying. Since it was so late at night we decided to take a taxi. Once we reached a street nearby the friend’s apartment complex Mariia told the taxi driver he could stop and we would walk from there.

Mariia took some money out of her wallet to pay the driver, but when she handed the bills to him he glanced at them and then shoved them back at her, yelling something angrily in Chinese.

“He says the money is fake and he won’t accept it, but that is impossible,” she told me.

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An assortment of Chinese bills. (Not my image. Image source: picturesofmoney.org/category/chinese-money)

 

Being the slightly naïve American that I am, I started taking out my wallet to see if he would accept my cash instead, but Mariia cautioned me to stop. The taxi driver took out some of his own money and thrust it towards Mariia, but she put her hands behind her back and refused to touch it. The two of them continued to talk back and forth for a few minutes until Mariia told me to get out of the car.

Mariia and I both exited the taxi and so did the driver. Mariia filled me in on their exchange outside of the car afterwards:

 

“So you’re not going to pay me?!” the taxi driver yelled

 

“We are trying to pay you but you won’t accept our money!” Mariia said back. She then started waving and yelling to passing cars, trying to get their attention in attempt to show the taxi driver that there were witnesses around.

We quickly turned and started walking to the friend’s apartment, glancing back at the taxi every so often. The driver stood outside of the car for a few minutes before getting back in and driving away. Mariia explained to me that when the driver was pushing his money at her, he was trying to get her to “feel the difference” between his money and hers to somehow prove that her money was fake. She told me that one of her friends had a similar experience with a taxi driver in Beijing…. when the friend reached out to touch the driver’s money he took the money from her hands and put his money into hers, then blamed her for trying to pay with the fake bills that were originally his.

So, thanks to Mariia’s memory and quick thinking, we avoided a potentially worse situation.

M&M: 1

Taxi Driver: 0

My Worst Experiences Abroad: Part 1, Accidents and Injuries

Note: This is the beginning of what will be a multiple part series on my travel “Horror Stories”– the most painful, creepy and uncomfortable experiences that I’ve had while outside of the United States. The point of me sharing these experiences is to encourage everyone to embrace the good and the bad when it comes to traveling, and find ways to grow from negative experiences. (Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced anything seriously life threatening while traveling.)

Some of these stories can be pretty comical now that they are over and done with. Others are just scary, no matter how you look at them. Either way, I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences!

Part 1: Accidents and Injuries

Costa Rica, July 2011

When I was 16 I traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks through a Girl Scouting program called Destinations (yes, Girl Scouts do more than just sell cookies!). The trip itself was a very valuable experience for me, and completely changed the way I viewed myself and what I was capable of as a teen. The two main focuses of the trip were performing acts of service and learning the basics of surfing.

On one of the last days of the trip our group of 13 girls and 4 instructors was returning to San Jose from a surf camp on the Western coast of the country. On our way, the school bus that we were riding in started to have mechanical problems and we were forced to stop on the roadside in a small town. One of the surf instructors and I needed to use the restroom so we went inside a small convenience store and asked the attendant if we could use the bathroom, but she refused. With no other options in close proximity, the instructor and I decided to slip into the edge of the nearby jungle in order to…well you know. The instructor said that I could go first and she would keep watch and then we could switch.

I took two steps into an area covered in thick underbrush and immediately fell about 6 feet down a steep slope in the ground.

The instructor heard me scream on the way down and started calling my name, asking if I was okay and if I could move. At first I was frozen in shock and I couldn’t answer her, but after a few seconds I was able to snap out of it and yelled back that I was okay. On the way down I hit the right side of my back on a rock but I could still move just fine.

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Slightly awkward 16-year-old me in Costa Rica during the summer of 2011.

The moment I remember the most clearly is when the instructor said “I’m coming down to get you!” I rolled over onto my side and when I looked up I could see her a few feet above me, crouched down on her stomach, extending her hand to me. She was a very petite girl but also very athletic, and when I grabbed her hand she pulled me back up the ledge with one yank.

After we returned to the group, one of the other instructors cleaned and bandaged the cut on my back with supplies from our first aid kit (I still have a very light scar). Then the instructor who had been my savior gathered a group of us to walk about half a mile to the nearest gas station so we could use the restroom. Lesson learned.

I still have the image in my mind of the surf instructor reaching out her hand to pull me up after my fall. At the time, the rescue felt much more dramatic! I remember that her name is Rose, she is from California and she was in her early 20s that summer.

Rose, wherever you are, if you’re reading this, thanks for saving me that day! 😉

South Korea, February 2015

During our second week studying abroad in South Korea, our good friend SungSu graciously invited Calum and I to go skiing with his family during the Lunar New Year holiday weekend. It was my first time skiing, ever, let alone in a foreign country. Even my Mom was nervous and cautioned me against going out on the slopes due to the risk of injury.

However, Calum and SungSu insisted that I give skiing a try, so I did. The two of them were by my side almost the entire time, and I was actually really enjoying myself despite the difficulty of trying a new sport. I was trying my best but I still had trouble slowing and down and stopping on the crowded slopes.

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SungSu, Calum and I on the ski lift at Vivaldi Park in South Korea, February 2015. Photo credit goes to SungSu!

Here is Calum’s recount of my accident (based on our blog entry from that time):

“That’s when trouble hit. Ok, maybe not that bad, but as I was skiing in front of Maddie and making my way down the hill. As I looked back for her, instead of seeing her skiing behind me I look just in time to see her crash through the side fence. It was honestly a little heart stopping. I stopped on the side, threw off my gloves, ski poles and skis and ran back up the hill towards her. SungSu was above us so he got over there pretty quick. Both of her skis had come off and her glasses were on the ground (surprisingly unbroken) a nearby slope worker saw what happened and called the snowmobile. She asked me if her eyes were dilated and seemed very shaken up. The snowmobile came and we got her on it. I grabbed the poles, skis and gloves and started down the mountain after it. Smart Sungsu put on his snowboard and rode down but I got down fast enough. After getting checked out and multiple blood pressure checks it was shown that she was fine. Though she was a little bruised it wasn’t a big injury. She still had a lot of fun though!  Looking back at it now she really didn’t do anything that bad but it was scary at the time.”

Though my head was a bit sore for a few days after the accident, but as the saying goes, I think my pride was hurt the most.

Thanks Mom, for not saying “I told you so!”