Here are some observations I've made from other places I've visited and observed over the past week:
--Tonight will be my second night at the ballet. They're putting on Swan Lake. I saw a stunning performance of Carmela (I think that's what it was) three nights ago. It was far and away superior to other shows I've seen in other CIS states. The theatre was about 2/3 full (not a bad showing relatively) and the entire presentation and ambience were delightful. Apart from these obvious trappings of culture and civilization, Minsk is an immaculate city. It seems Belarussians don't litter and don't jaywalk. A burgeoning consumer culture and Western advertising along with throngs of well dressed Belarussians create a very civilized and elegant image.
Of course, at times the neatly packaged, pretty capital city exposes another side...the side that we hear a lot more spoken about in the "West." As I was walking through the park to return to my hotel after the independence day festivities (unbeknownst to me, I had landed the day before the biggest holiday in Belarus and my hotel room overlooked the festivities), I witnessed a group of uniformed military police kicking the shit out of two teenagers. I was the only pedestrian walking by, and saw them dropkick the two, and pound them repeatedly while they were on the ground with their boots until they were bloodied and beaten. I tried not to stare and continue on my way, but it was hard. As I crossed the bridge, I realized they were following me and experienced some pangs of fear, one of the first times I can ever recall experiencing fear while traveling. Thankfully, they turned the other way soon after, and nothing more came of it.
--The girls here are stunningly gorgeous. Hands down, the hottest girls (in great abundance) that I've ever seen across 6 continents. It seems nearly all of them are engaged in 1 of three competitions at any given moment: tightest pants, shortest skirt, or highest heels. With no puritanical religion to speak of, flesh is the only religion they subscribe to. I had illusions of possibly meeting and hooking up with some, but that has proven to be quite difficult. The inability to communicate in its most basic form and share a simple word makes that nearly impossible. Unless, of course you're willing to pay for it--which is quite easy. In all 6 of the Soviet-style hotels in Minsk, all of them are swarming with prostitutes (even in the really nice, fancy one). I made the mistake of sitting in one of their chairs, and got accosted for it. But, not before, she offered to sleep with me for $150 "for once" or $300 "for the two times." Some discount. At a place where the average monthly income is less than the "one time," I wanted to slap her for her presumptuousness. Though i don't think she cared too much about my rejection. They do quite well for themselves. It seems they capitalize on the fact that non-Russian speaking foreigners are completely helpless. Though any given girl passing on the street is twice as attractive as the best looking prostitute, they are completely untouchable. And after seeing the throngs of scantily clad, stunning Slavic women, you're so horny that you're nearly trembling. In other words, it seems the prostitutes do quite well here.