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.
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.
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.
Taxi Driver: 0