Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana

Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana

4.9 23
by Stephanie Elizondo Griest

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Desperate to escape South Texas, Stephanie Elizondo Griest dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent. So she headed to Russia looking for some excitement—commencing what would become a four-year, twelve-nation Communist bloc tour that shattered her preconceived notions of the “Evil Empire.”

In Around the Bloc, Griest relates her


Desperate to escape South Texas, Stephanie Elizondo Griest dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent. So she headed to Russia looking for some excitement—commencing what would become a four-year, twelve-nation Communist bloc tour that shattered her preconceived notions of the “Evil Empire.”

In Around the Bloc, Griest relates her experiences as a volunteer at a children’s shelter in Moscow, a propaganda polisher at the office of the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language mouthpiece in Beijing, and a belly dancer among the rumba queens of Havana. She falls in love with an ex-soldier who narrowly avoided radiation cleanup duties at Chernobyl, hangs out with Cuban hip-hop artists, and comes to difficult realizations about the meaning of democracy.

is the absorbing story of a young journalist driven by a desire to witness the effects of Communism. Along the way, she learns the Russian mathematical equation for buying dinner-party vodka (one bottle per guest, plus an extra), stumbles upon Beijing’s underground gay scene, marches with 100,000 mothers demanding Elián González’s return to Cuba, and gains a new appreciation for the Mexican culture she left behind.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Stephanie Elizondo Griest has the soul of an adventurer, the heart of a child, the wit of a jester, and the mind of a wise old woman. Lucky for us, she also has a pen."
-Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of Shutterbabe

"A must-read for every student traveling or studying abroad. Griest’s four-year journey through communist capitol cities is an absorbing tale of political, social and personal discovery."
-Marybeth Bond
, author Travelers' Tales: Gutsy Women; editor Travelers' Tales: A Woman's World

“A Chicana in China y mas? Who wouldn’t want to partake in Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s ongoing love affair with adventure? Unlike some travel stories where a smug author painfully tries to convince themselves (and their readers) how well they can adapt to foreign soil, Miss Stephanie, my dear beige sister, confesses full frontal vulnerability. She is the awkward tourist, the savvy traveler and…one hell of a writer! As long as there are books like this, one never needs to redeem mom’s frequent flyer points to experience true adventure!”
-Michele Serros, author of How to be a Chicana Role Model and Chicana Falsa

"Forget about J-school. Stephanie Elizondo Griest practices journalism the way it should be practiced. I wish I could have been hiding in her suitcase at each stop along her remarkable journey."
-Tom Miller
, author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba and The Panama Hat Trail

"A stunning first. Stephanie Elizondo Griest's memoir is a coming of age odyssey every American should read. Around the Bloc does more than tell a story. It vibrates with humor, insight and honesty — a rare gem."
-Anchee Min, author of Red Azalea and Becoming Madame Mao

"A delightful and saucy romp through strange places and even stranger states of mind. Griest is not only an inspiration as a traveler and observer–she is darn funny too."
James O'Reilly, author of Travelers' Tales

"Opening Around the Bloc is rather like popping the cork off a champagne bottle. This book fairly brims over with a refreshing zest and sparkle, which, one imagines, is probably an apt description of its author, as well. Stephanie Elizondo Griest, who embarked on her own Pilgrim’s Progress around the world’s greatest former (and current) communist capital cities, has written a delightful account of her curious journey. Full of humour, compassion and a great degree of personal candour, Around the Bloc is clearly just the beginning for this gifted young writer.”
-Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Lion’s Grave

Brooke Allen
Around the Bloc' is not only superb travel writing, it is also a beautifully written story of self-discovery. As a college student, Griest was ''a militant-vegetarian-Chicana-feminist,'' but in Moscow she makes little headway against the ''primped and preened'' Russian women. ''Moscow felt a lot like Dallas,'' she observes. ''No respectable woman would dare run down to the neighborhood kiosk without base, concealer, blush, eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara and lipstick.'' Her vegetarianism ends in Beijing, where shish-kebabed scorpions and snake blood turn up on the menu. And her Chicana pride turns to humiliation in Havana when her Spanish won't sustain even the most basic conversation.
The New York Times
Georgia Jones-Davis
As with truly successful travel writing, Around the Bloc suggests that our best journeys often lead to discoveries within ourselves.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
When Griest was a high school senior in Texas, a CNN correspondent told her that if she wanted a globe-hopping career like his, she should learn Russian. Four years later, she went to Moscow and spent a semester at a linguistic institute, beginning a four-year period of travel (1996-2000) to 12 nations, including much of the former Soviet bloc and Communist China and Cuba. Readers will quickly intuit just how little of Griest's adventures made it into this account, as a two-month Central Asian trek gets a single sentence and Eastern Europe falls completely by the wayside. But there's little opportunity to regret what's missing because of the captivating stories that Griest does choose to tell. From the sight of an old woman stealing canned goods from a shopper who'd passed out in a Moscow grocery to the aggressive banter of Havana black marketers, Griest has a journalist's eye for compelling detail. Her youthful romantic attraction to "the Revolution" is slightly less attractive, at times treating the largely defeated Communist movement as almost exotic, and na ve daydreams about matters like the "damn good loving" she might find from angst-ridden Beijing men can occasionally induce winces. But she doesn't flinch from depicting the brutal effects of authoritarianism and economic decline, or how her experiences hastened her political and emotional maturity. Though still raw in places, Griest's writing shows great promise; she may wind up joining Tom Bissell (Chasing the Sea, Forecasts, June 2) in the vanguard of a new generation of travel writers. Agent, Sarah Jane Freymann. (On sale Mar. 9) Forecast: Author interviews, an NPR campaign and marketing to college students could jump-start sales of this low-priced trade paperback. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her first book, freelancer writer Griest (the New York Times, Latina) describes her four years of travel throughout the Communist bloc. It is an intensely personal journey, stemming from her desire to see these lands and a CNN correspondent's advice to study Russian. As an idealistic young American immersed in divergent cultures, Griest quickly learns that life as a foreigner is not what she had expected. The book includes many experiences, described in great detail with emotional context. Some of the experiences include standing in line to check out books at a university library in Russia: the library's inefficiency stuns the American students, but the stolid Russian students know to expect it. Other experiences include Griest's rediscovering Beijing as she acts as tour guide to her visiting mother and fearfully going through American customs after an illegal trip to Cuba. Though there are some interesting insights into Communist culture, the overall tone is rather self-involved and betrays an "outsider laughing at the foreigners" perspective-though that may be Griest's attempt at self-ridicule. An optional purchase.-Alison Hopkins, Brantford P.L., Ont. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An innocent coming-of-age story from a young Latina journalist who recounts her stays in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, circa 1996 to 2000. There is little to nothing of late-breaking news in Griest's report from her foreign postings. Moscow still smells "of equal parts vodka and sausage, leather and tobacco, sweat and strife," and Beijing of "cigarette smoke, sweat, and soy sauce." You still need permits and papers in Russia, and the bureaucracy still creaks with inefficiency; democracy is a long way off, the revolution is dead, and war and corruption are in: same old same old. In Beijing, where she toils for the English-language propaganda sheet, journalism is all about not offending your friends (North Korea), not recognizing your enemies (Dalai Lama), and steering clear of the sensitive: AIDS, drugs, capital punishment. Cuba, too, gets a standard-issue treatment: "Revolutionaries might be genius military strategists, but they are crummy economists," conveniently forgetting the embargo. So the value of all this comes down to Griest getting off the beaten track, which she does often enough to keep the pages turning: working in a shelter for children in Moscow to taste the downside of vodka; learning to shrug off fiercely held convictions to get into the stomach of the Chinese via the food bond; and dancing (and dancing) in Cuba. The energy she puts into these pursuits opens her mind and drives her story past some hackneyed material (" ‘Look at their faces,' Elena whispered in my ear. ‘This is real Russia.' "). Here, she can avoid received opinion because she is creating her own, tossing aside "the anvil of history," and slipping on a new pair of cultural spectacles, letting her doubts andnew-found notions rise to the surface. Griest at least gets out and about and drinks in some cultural relativism rather than assuming the omniscient cloak of the foreign correspondent. Agent: Sarah Jane Freymann

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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5.21(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

1. Moscow Manifesto


—Karl Marx

They say the first rule of traveling is packing only what you can carry for half a mile at a dead run. I had every intention of doing this back home in Texas, but my barest essentials filled two huge suitcases and a potbellied backpack. While I could not actually carry all seventy pounds of my luggage, I could push and shove it for small distances. So that’s what I did at Sheremetyevo Airport, from passport control to baggage claim to customs. Beyond the exit gate was a mob of onlookers who exuded my first whiffs of Moscow: a scent of equal parts vodka and sausage, leather and tobacco, sweat and strife. For one brief moment, the crowd’s collective attention focused on me, taking in my lumberjack hiking boots, Michelin man down coat, and wire-rimmed glasses. “Inostranka,” they murmured my nickname for the next half year. Foreign girl. Then the beefy guys in tracksuits and gold chains turned back to their cell phones, the fashionable girls—impeccably dressed in floor-length furs, knee-high riding boots, and fluffy hats—lit up another round of slender cigarettes, and everyone else resumed their stoic stances. I navigated in, around, and through them and emerged smelling vaguely of sausages.

Seeing no other place to sit in the concourse, I plopped down on the floor beside my fortress of luggage to wait for the other exchange students in my group. Within an instant, an ancient woman was hovering over me. She wore thick woolen tights beneath her layers of housedresses and hand-knit sweaters; her silver hair was covered with a brightly colored kerchief. Russians call these walking, talking historical artifacts babushki, or grandmothers. When I grinned at her, she latched on to my forearm with an iron grip and plucked me up. “The ground is too cold to sit on. You’ll freeze your ovaries,” she scolded, then shuffled away so I could ponder the damage done to my unborn children.

Five bleary-eyed Texans soon joined me. Gerad, who was returning for his second semester, ventured outside to look for the van scheduled to meet us at noon. The rest of us—who hadn’t slept in thirty-two hours—collapsed in a heap. After an hour had passed, I joined Gerad in the parking lot. “Where do you think our driver is?”

“Passed out on the couch at the dorm,” he replied, then pulled out a wad of rubles and handed me a 10,000 note. “Why don’t you call Nadezhda?”

Nadezhda was the Muscovite I’d befriended two years before, during her exchange program at my university in Texas. When we’d talked earlier that week, she’d promised to meet me at either the airport or the dormitory, depending on her work schedule. She’d know what to do—if I could find her. I wandered back inside the airport and found a smoky room with a row of plastic red phones stacked atop a counter. Transactions appeared to go through a sour-faced woman seated behind a desk, so I got in line behind three burly men with olive skin and five o’clock shadows. When one cordially asked how to call T’bilisi, the operator glowered. “The instructions are written on the wall! Can’t you read?”

The Georgians mumbled their apologies and ambled over to the phones. Then the woman set her ice-pick eyes on me. I dropped the 10,000-ruble note on her desk and darted off to the nearest phone before she could yell. True to her word, the instructions were pasted on the plexiglass partition, but I couldn’t decipher more than two consecutive words. Hoping for the best, I simply picked up the receiver and dialed Nadezhda’s work number. A woman answered after a few rings.

“Allo? . . . Allo?”

“Hello?” I asked in Russian.

“Allo? . . . Allo!”

“Hello, is Nadezhda there?”

“Allo? . . . Allo! . . . Gospodi!” Then she hung up. It seemed she never heard me.

I got back in line, this time behind a handsome young couple who paid for their phone call, split the change, and walked out the door without ever unlocking their lips.

“It didn’t work,” I told the operator.

Pursing her lips so tightly they disappeared, she asked why I hadn’t followed the instructions written in plain Russian on the wall. After I explained that I was somewhat illiterate in her language, she grunted and told me to press something—only I didn’t catch what—when I heard a voice. Then she shooed me away.

I returned to the phone and tried again. This time when the woman answered, I pressed nine, as that’s what usually gets punched in America. She still couldn’t hear me, though, so I pressed one, then zero. Nothing. I started pushing all the buttons frantically. She hung up.

I took a deep breath and retreated to the line.

“Why didn’t you press three?” the operator bellowed.

“Why three?” I asked plaintively, then returned to the phones.

This time no one answered at Nadezhda’s office, and I let it ring a long, long time, my index finger hovering over the three key. Feeling strangely defeated, I retrieved Gerad’s rubles and headed back to my posse. How was I going to survive in a country where I couldn’t even make a phone call?

Another two and a half hours passed.

“Well, guys, it looks like the welcome wagon ain’t coming,” Gerad broke the news. The options that followed were gloomy. The airport was located in the northernmost tip of the city; our dormitory was south of center. The Mafiya-controlled taxi cartel would charge about $70 a head—a price none of us could afford. Public transportation was cheap, but how could we get twenty-one pieces of luggage on and off buses that didn’t come to complete stops? The only other option was for Gerad to return to the dormitory alone and try to find our driver—meaning the rest of us would have another two- or three-hour wait.

We were about to vote when I heard my Russian name, Stesha, shouted across the concourse. I turned to see Nadezhda running toward me. I whooped for joy, but something stopped me from jumping into her outstretched arms. Last time I saw my friend, she looked like me: hair bedraggled, Levi’s ripped, feet sandaled, nose pierced. Now she was draped in fur and riding boots and sported a sleek new haircut.

“You’ve changed,” I breathed.

“You haven’t,” she quipped before throwing her arms around me.

Nadezhda had spent the past hour and a half waiting on a couch back at the dorm. When she realized the man crashed out beside her was our driver, she woke him up.

“He’s got a hangover, but he’s waiting right outside!” she announced cheerfully.

We piled our quarter ton of luggage into the van and clambered aboard. The van lurched out of the congested parking lot and joined the throngs of trams, trolleys, buses, Ladas, and bulletproof Mercedes-Benzes belching exhaust onto the snowbanked highway. Mile after mile of concrete apartment blocs whizzed past, each so randomly placed, it seemed Big Brother had dropped them from the sky. Women chatted on park benches; old men shared dried fish and beer over tree stumps. Kids wore so many layers of winter clothing, their limbs stuck out like a starfish’s. Fat gray crows flitted about in pencil-thin trees; the dogs being walked beneath them were, without exception, big, mean, and ugly. (That whole year, I never saw a dog smaller or gentler than a Rottweiler.)

As we approached downtown, the past century of Rus- sian history came into view. After seventy years of exile, prerevolutionary Moscow was slowly rearing its regal head again, its cathedrals and monasteries receiving full-scale face lifts while its onion-shaped gold domes shimmered in the sun. On the socialist side, ruby red stars crested buildings so massive, they seemed to have been built by titans instead of men. Capitalism had recently seized the skyline in the form of high-rise banks and chic new department stores.

Suddenly, the driver cut across three lanes of traffic to parallel-park beside a whitewashed cathedral with kelly green and electric orange trim. Our new home was the six-story dormitory across the street. We lugged our suitcases up to the lobby, where two guys in jeans and sneakers dozed on the couch in front of the television set. They turned out to be the security guards. During a commercial break, one strolled over to survey the mountain of luggage forming in the foyer.

“The elevator is broken,” he said, yawning, and returned to his spot on the couch.

“What floor is our room on?” I asked Gerad.

“The fifth.”

Nadezhda took that as her cue to leave. “I’ll come see you soon,” she promised with a hug and a kiss, then turned on her leather riding boots and left.

I had practiced being Russian a long time before moving there. I put cabbage in my tacos instead of shredded lettuce and ate lots of beets. I weaned myself off spices and drowned everything in sour cream. I devoured Russian literature, memorized Pushkin, and sang along to Vladimir Visotsky, the Soviet Union’s Bob Dylan. I made the arduous switch from tequila to vodka when I went out at night. I even opted for a non-air-conditioned suite at my group house in college. That’s suicide in central Texas heat, but I thought it would build the character I needed for Moscow.

It didn’t. Nothing could have prepared me for that student dormitory.

I could handle the fact that our room was on the fifth floor and the elevators never worked. I could live with the chronic lightbulb shortage that left the stairwells and hallways pitch black after sunset. I didn’t mind that our wallpaper peeled off in strips, or that our curtain covered only a fourth of the window and our room faced dead east, or that our room was infested with flies. One might assume insects die in Russia’s harsh winters, but they actually just migrate into student dormitories. They hovered over our heads as we brushed our teeth. They circled our skillets when we made spaghetti. They crawled up our noses as we slept. I was once the kind of person who carefully scooped up insects that strayed indoors and carried them outside to the bushes. But within a week of those flies, I joined my roommates’ declaration of war. Our first line of defense was a gooey roll of flypaper, which we attempted to suspend from a light fixture with an upside-down hanger. We ran into it more than the flies, however, so we soon made a nightly ritual of shutting the door, closing the window, rolling up some Pravda, and going on a killing spree. We became so adept, we sometimes murdered two with one blow.

I could also deal with our bathtub situation. We converted it into a shower by suspending its spray nozzle from another hanger and some masking tape, but our lack of a curtain—or shower rod—meant we either flooded the room when we stood or froze our asses against the porcelain when we sat. (We would all return home to Texas with quads of steel after so many months of squatting.) Our toilet had a room of its own that was so small, we banged our knees against the door when we straddled the pot. Someone hung a portrait of Gogol at eye level, and to this day I associate the literary master with bowel movements.

I didn’t even mind our kitchen. Each floor in the dormitory had an oven and two stoves, but only seven of the burners in the whole dorm worked properly. One was on our floor, but our Romanian neighbors were always boiling their beets on it. The kitchens were also home to little cockroaches that—like the flies—periodically peeked over our skillets to see what we were cooking. We were constantly scooping them out and chucking them onto the floor, which grew crunchy as the semester progressed.

Truth is, I rather enjoyed this lack of amenities, as it forced us to be resourceful and inventive—qualities you just can’t acquire while living in privilege. We made shelves by yanking off the doors of the cabinets and hanging them on the wall with nails and string. A rope, a bucket, and an empty corner sufficed as our laundry room; we hung our perishables out the window into the icebox of winter. The gaping hole in the ceiling where microphones once recorded late night conversations was our ready reminder of how Soviet life used to be. Gerad said that, back in the day, exchange students used to stand on chairs and bid the bugs spokounii nochi—good night—before they went to sleep.

What I couldn’t hack in my new home was the cot. The pillow was the width of a pantyliner; the mattress was only marginally thicker than the old army blanket that covered it. Both were smelly and stained. But I probably could have handled even this if it hadn’t been for the bedsprings, which bored little holes all over my body. I lost so much sleep, my left eye started twitching. After two sleepless weeks, I sat down for a seri- ous talk with my roommate, Kandy. A native Texan with the Big Hair to prove it—long, strawberry blond, and corkscrew curly—Kandy had financed her entire college education bartending at Tejano and kicker bars and roared around Austin in a fire-engine red sports car. She spoke Russian with a twang but could talk Turgenev like a scholar. She couldn’t take our sleeping situation, either, and had already dreamed up a plan.

The second floor of the dormitory doubled as a hotel, and its rooms were rumored to be far nicer than ours on the fifth, with full-length curtains and chairs with cushions. They also had maid service. That last element was key, as it meant a way in when the guests were out. For the next few days, Kandy and I lingered in the stairwell, noting the housekeeper’s every move. First she changed the bedsheets and tossed the soiled linens out the door. Next she emptied the trash. Then she dumped a pail of disinfectant onto the floor, splashed it around with a mop, and headed on to the next room, leaving the doors open so they could air out. Most important, tucked in a hallway out of view from the main corridor were three spare rooms that took her about fifteen minutes to clean.

We would have to act with speed and accuracy.

I had never stolen a thing in my life but decided this didn’t count. As Proudhon liked to say, “Property is theft.” Liberat- ing a mattress was a step toward greater class equality; I could justify my actions in Marxist terms if pressed. Kandy and I took off our hiking boots, put on our tapochki—slippers—and crouched in the stairwell as the housekeeper shuffled in and out of the rooms. We waited until she turned the far corner to work on the three hidden rooms, and the instant the disinfectant splashed on the floor we darted into the room nearest the stairwell. Not only was it wallpapered, it had a television set and sofa. Now I really felt no guilt. Kandy went to one bed, I the other. I flung back the bedspread and discovered the same paltry mattress that covered my own cot—except there were four.

“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” I muttered as I pulled out the middle two and covered the remaining two with the bedspread. Kandy took three. We rolled them into bundles along with the fresh linens and crept toward the door.

I heard it first—the clip-clop of the komandanka’s orthopedic shoes, coming down the stairwell. The superintendent of the dormitory, the komandanka was the in-house tyrant. She crashed all our parties and sent our guests home. She made the hired help cry. Rent raised at her whim. Dubbed “the Poison Dwarf” by exchange students long ago, she was now coming to inspect the housekeeping. My heart leaped into my throat as we made a break for the bathroom and hid behind the door. The footsteps came closer and paused by our doorway. My heart pounded so furiously, I felt light-headed; Kandy’s freckles disappeared in a flush.

Were thieves still sent to Siberia in post-Soviet Russia? Would we be summarily denounced? Would she force us to do a self-criticism in front of the other residents?

After the longest thirty seconds of my life, the Poison Dwarf turned on her heels and clip-clopped down the hall. Kandy slipped out of the bathroom to keep watch, then motioned me to follow. We ran for the stairwell with our billowy bundles, flew up five flights of stairs, burst into our room, and slammed the door triumphantly. I stripped off my army blanket and added the two new mattresses and linens. Kandy kicked off her tapochki and looked at me. I nodded.

We turned off the lights and slept for the next day and a half.

Meet the Author

STEPHANIE ELIZONDO GRIEST has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Latina, and Travelers’ Tales. As a national correspondent for The Odyssey, an educational website for kids, she once drove forty-five thousand miles across America, documenting its history. She now runs an anticensorship activist organization called the Youth Free Expression Network out of New York City. Visit her website at

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Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh...ok then" she groomed herself
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May i join? I don't have a name.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dude icetail is a warrior fyi
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks Everdawn
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ok, sorry i havent been on. my nook stopped charging and ran out of battery. i made sure to get a warranty last time my nook broke, so im getting it fixed soon. (btw, side note, darkpelt, i was never an apprentice here. i joined as a warrior, and everdawn, edie was leader before blazestar) ~~ icetail (via computer)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
FernWasp padded around camp. • SwiftTooth watched every cat. • SlatePaw wandered around looking for his mentor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Icetail cant post, her nook wont charge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pads in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
((Meh.)) She flounced around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The deputy walks in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read her post at blazing news res one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dont leave! Please! Just... first read the announcement at blazing news second res.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Hello, Icestar! Welcome back. We all missed you so mu-oof!" Said Greengrass as Sugarkit bumped into her mother.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are moving to 'arson' all results. I'd advise to check out all the spots, considering there is a Bio Place and a few other things I made.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Purrs. "I love you." (Gtg to bed before I never wake up tomorrow T3T)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Wake up!" He meowed with laughter as he nosed his apprentice softly. "Kit days are over. You have to get up much earlier if you want to be a warrior someday." He added. "What do you want to do first? Hunting or fighting?" He asked once Robinpaw woke up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She pads in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Always, I have wanted to visit China, but never got around to it. Now that I've read AROUND THE BLOC by Stephanie Elizondo Griest, I almost feel I've been to China. In her book, Ms. Griest depicts what life is like for artists and writers there, just how fashion-conscious some young Russian women are, the Russian version of a spa, China's nightclub scene and Cuba's hip-hop scene. Anyone interested in life in Russia or China or Cuba--or travel in general--will enjoy reading this fascinating, exuberant, entertaining book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a good, fun read. I highly recommend it for any high school or college student who wants to study or travel abroad. An avid traveler myself, I was pleased to read about some parts of the world I've yet to go--and the cultural 'shocks' that can occur. I was reminded, yet again, that when one takes a look at American consciousness from the outside in, she is reminded that communist propaganda (or what we perceive it to be) is at times, strikingly similar to our own 'democratic' propaganda...and in the end, college kids the world over just want to pursue their dreams, and have a good time. Props to the writer...she did an ace job.