June is my birth month and may be for this reason the question of identity has been a lot on my mind lately… One of the most popular questions I got asked is: “Where are you from?” which is, when I simply answer: “Russia” is followed by the stream of questions along the lines - “where are your parents from (Grandparents, great grandparents and so on, it turns into a very long and not so fun game…) or people would stare at me simply and blurt out point blank - “but you are Asian” or sometimes they would very gently whisper to me the same thing, but in a tone of voice, that would suggest they letting me onto a little secret, makes me chuckle really, because, trust me I am well aware of the fact that I am Asian.
I usually end up going into the quick explanation routine. Yes, I am asian, but I was born and raised in Russia. I am half Kalmyk (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalmyks), half Kyrgyz (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrgyz_people). Kalmyks are part of Mongolian brunch and they have been living in Russia since XVII century and Kyrgyzstan is a country in Central Asia that used to be a part of Soviet Union. This is kind of an" explain yourself in under five minutes" routine that I am doing each time (minus the wikipedia links, that I include here for you guys, so you can get a little more info, if you feel so inclined) most of the times I don’t mind it really, because I would love more people to learn about diversity in Russia and world in general.
This image of someone from Russia as a blond/blue eyed person is so common, I tend to get into funny situations at times where, I would show up and people would not know what to do with me. My very first trip overseas as a model was in Singapore. The agency send a driver to pick me up at the airport to take me to model’s apartment (before you get to excited I had to reimburse my agency for that ride, because nothing in life is free). The driver had minimum information to go by - my name and the fact that I was coming from Russia and evidently he was waiting for a Russian model and then I showed up. “Hello! It’s me”. He was not having it, he kept saying no, no, I am waiting for a Russian girl. It took me a minute to convince him, that I was the one he was supposed to pick up, I even showed him my passport, so he would be at ease, I think he was worried I am just some local girl, trying to score a free ride into the city.
Growing up in Russia in my home town of Tynda in a middle of nowhere I stood out. There were not many people looking like me, so my outsides didn’t match up. Kids could be mean as we all know it and in the kindergarten I was told that I am not allowed to play with the toys, because those were for Russian kids only and I was not one of them. I won’t be going much into details of bulling, because it is in a past and probably not worth wallowing in. Just going to leave it as it was rough drawing up. One of the sentiments that I have heard most was “Go home!” which was so confusing to me, because in my mind, this was home already, I was born and raised there so where would they suggest I was supposed to be going? One thing was clear that I didn’t belong and so within me, it started that unconscious search for Home.
Things got much much better when I moved to St. Petersburg, there my part time modeling career started and soon enough I was invited to go to Singapore. I had to google it, because I had no idea, where or what exactly it was. The first international trip, I didn’t know it back then but my search for Home turned into real, geographical play. Singapore was great as the first trip, so organized and safe and proper, everybody spoke english and it was easy to get around and one more thing it was in Asia. Finally I wouldn’t stand out.
There is something liberating about blending in and I really did want to just be one of. Then there was Hong Kong and China but the even tho my outsides finally matched, the insides (cultural background, the way of thinking, language) all of it didn’t match at all. Language is one of the biggest things probably, in my mind it is a corner stone for your identity, becoming who you are, understanding those around you… And once I opened my mouth it was quite clear, I didn’t belong once again.
The amount of Chinese tourists I disappointed over the years is amazing… They rush to me in NYC Subway, they look at me hopeful in NY Common Food Pantry (where I at times volunteer) one lady singled me out on a train going from Naples to Florence, here we were in a middle of Italy and she managed to find me, only to be let down, because I had no idea what she wanted or how to help her, I don’t speak Chinese… Believe me, I tried to learn, but failed miserably.
I used to displease taxi drivers in Shanghai. You see in China before Uber showed up it used to be hard to get around, google maps are practically non existent and to get somewhere you were supposed to at least know the cross streets of where you going and you would need to say it in Chinese or at least it was supposed to sound close enough to Chinese so the driver would know where to take you, naturally on one wanted extra hassle and effort, so the drivers would usually just drive past european looking potential passengers. So my friends would put me by the side of the road to hail a cab, while they hide in a back and when the taxi driver would stop he would be unpleasantly surprised - not only there were a bunch of europeans waiting, but the only “Chinese” person won’t speak a world of Chinese … we would always end up getting where we need to go, but the drivers were NOT happy with me. I would catch judgmental looks all the way.
Here I was again, my outsides matched, but it wasn’t enough. One more time I didn’t belong.
Then there was New York, where everything changed, although it didn’t seem like it at first. When I just got to NYC I was walking down the street on my way to meet my new agency, I was passing by some construction site and got an earful from construction workers, if you ever been to NYC you know that they always have something to say, my english was not so good at the time, so I didn’t really understand them, but the word I kept hearing the most was “gorgeous”, I had no idea what it meant, but in all my previous experiences I never been called anything nice, especially passing by on a street, so I immediately assumed that it was a bad word. I thought to myself - Great, not even a day here and I am already getting called names… Then I walked into the agency and was greeted by my bookers “Hello, Girl! Here you are. You are gorgeous “ I stopped short. It couldn’t be, they wouldn’t bring me all the way to New York to insult me in my face, may be it is a good word ? I goggled it later that day to find out what it means exactly. It took me a couple of tries, it is not an easy word to spell :) and well I liked that word.
NYC changed everything for me. It became home, the one I didn’t even know I was looking for. New York brought me absolute freedom. Here I could finally walk down the street without the need to hold my breath every time I pass by big group of people, the was no need to tense up or keep on looking over my shoulder. I could be whatever I wanted to be, no one cared and I loved it. In this great city my outside and my inside finally matched up.
I love this place so much and people who make it what it is. So if you are reading this, it is my appeal to you - be kind. Change good or bad it always starts small and it always starts within. So at this challenging time and in light of recent events, now is the time to recognize that acceptance, humanism, tolerance, kindness it all starts with us, so let’s allow ourselves and each other find a place, where we would belong and be who we are, free.
Despite what one might think, this post is about literally hot as in high temperatures summer, so if you are hoping for some steamy content, I will disappoint you, but if you want to know how I battled way too hot NYC summer with the random combination of beaches and museums, read right on.
Now, I know that beach and museum is not a traditional pairing, but somehow looking at the summary of my NYC summer time - that’s what it came down to. New York is the city I am lucky to call home and I am forever grateful to be living here, but every time I am staying in for a summer I am left with the question - what to do? There is something about summer time, you always want to feel that you made the best out of it, long awaited, when it is finally here you want to soak up every beat, but it just does not feel real summery if you don’t go on vacation or some kind of adventure, plus it gets stupid hot in NYC - just try to take a subway on a regular summer day - it will feel like you are in a sauna. Your most prized possession and best friend will be an AC, it also becomes high point in advertising - “We have AC” will be scribbled across all the chalk boards in front of every possible bar/restaurant/cafe…
So how do you escape summer heat? Go to the beach or go somewhere with good AC…
Step one. Beach.
All things considered we are lucky to have number of beaches all around NYC. Coney Island in Brooklyn, Rockaway in Queens, Fire Island, Hamptons and Montauk.
Rockaway beach is a nice option, since it is easily accessible by public transportation, but less crowded then say Coney Island one.
I really wanted to take advantage of a new Ferry service they opened up www.ferry.nyc/routes-and-schedules/route/rockaway/, for $2.75 a ride it seamed like a nice, scenic route option, but when I got to the Wall street the line turned out to be enormous, so I had to quickly abandon this idea and got to the plan B - subway. Luckily you can take A to 67th street (for example) quick walk and hooray you are at the beach. Helpful tip if you are planing on taking a subway on a weekend check this site - tripplanner.mta.info/MyTrip/ui_web/customplanner/TripPlanner.aspx. New York subway on weekends like to play games and trains often suffer from the identity crisis … so A, runs like C on E track, you get the idea…
The Rockaway beach is in general nice - it is clean and equipped with new broad walk and fancy public restrooms, there is also a life guard on duty. What they dont have is any kind of cafe or bar or any place on site where you could get some kind of food, which is really disappointing, since picnic on a beach is generally a really nice idea, so come prepared, or make a stop at the grocery store (there is a Stop and Shop close by the subway) on the way to the beach.
Much less crowded and more scenic would be Fire Island beaches. You will need to rent a car or get on a Ferry for that one, it is harder to reach but it is worth it.
If you decide on a car - drive to Robert Moses State Park. You will need to pay a fee, at the parking lot this being a state park, but there are plenty of parking places and the beach is lovely, although keep in mind there might not be a life guard on duty …
If you opt for the Ferry - www.fireislandferries.com www.sayvilleferry.com/index.php - you will be guaranteed nice views on a ride and will dock down at the very cute town with beach vibes, which is always fun to explore, also you will feel like you are far far away from NYC…
Step 2. Museums. While there are plenty of places that offer AC as an escape from NYC heat, I chose museums. Mostly because come summer time many of them feature nice events, so you can not only soak up culture and cool down but also listen for live music for example.
I went down to MOMA for a life performance in there garden as a part of there Summer Thursdays and it was lovely. The concert is included in your museum admission price, which is a nice touch as well. You can find upcoming events here -www.moma.org/calendar/?happening_filter=All+events
Come Friday you can take advantage of MetFridays - www.metmuseum.org/events/programs/met-fridays that offers wide range of evening activities, some of which you might need to book a spot for in advance (you don’t need to pay extra, it is included with your museum admission) or simply come up to the roof and get a glass of wine. Art, wine, rooftop and views of Central Park - here is your summer living full swing.
You can also get out of town and into a museum on a weekend.
This summer I finally got to visit Dia:Beacon -www.diaart.org and it was an incredible experience, honestly I do not remember last time I was so excited by the museum, took me around 4 hours to explore everything and while sometimes you get simply overwhelmed by the amount of information that is thrown at you in the museums like lets say Met for example, that contains it all, and it is hard to filter through, at DIA everything works perfectly together, exhibitions blend seamlessly permanent and temporary displaces coexist cohesively guaranteeing beautiful experience. I am not gonna describe what you will find there, so not to spoil anything, but if you choose to go, there is plenty to see and do, and the building itself is a whole different story, Dia used to be a factory and it is still contains original walls, beams and most importantly windows, there are enormous amount of windows. Dia:Beacon uses only natural light and there is plenty of it coming from floor to ceiling windows and many many skylights, whole building gets this open space, airy feel and it is safe to say that everyone gets a different experience depending on a time of a day they come in, from cool morning light to the golden hour hues.
The great thing about Dia is also the fact that it is really easy to get to even without the car. Take advantage of Metro-North’s One-Day Getaway Package which includes a round trip tickets to Beacon from Grand Central and the museum ticket. All around win win win situation.
Stop by the Beacon on a way back and explore cute town, if you are happen to be a “Doctor Who” fan - which I am not- stop by www.thepandoricarestaurant.com
Even if "Doctor Who" is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of charming places to grab a bite at all conveniently located on a Main Street of course. One coffee shop even offers wine smoothies, which is a frozen wine blended in with fresh fruit, now tell me that doesn’t sound like fun.
So this is a short recap of my New York summer, beaches, art and wine :) Hope you enjoyed reading this.
Happy last days of Summer
“Why are you doing this?” was the first question I got asked when I shared that I want to skip birthday presents and ask people to donate to a fundraising campaign instead. The question was valid and conversation that followed even made me a bit unsure of my decision … I wondered if people will be open to my ideas, if they would think that I am an attention seeker, trying to come across as all high and mighty,if they would be relentless to participate and then I talked to my Mum and as always she was supportive of my decisions, that took away any doubts I had, which proofs one more time, you should always speak to your mother first :)
Anyways, let me recap the story: with my birthday fast approaching I was feeling blue, I think many of us do, pre -birthday blues - you involuntarily start giving your life evaluation and let’s face it, more often then not you see that you are not where you’d want and/or thought you’d be. I also felt strongly that even tho my life was not as accomplished as I would want it to be, it was still a good life and I wanted to express how grateful I am for it. So I decided to use my birthday as an opportunity to raise money for a charitable cause. I’ve heard about this before and decided to give it a shot, being a bit of a nerd I did some research, I wanted to donate to a non-profit that would have a high score by charity watchdog - transparent, accountable etc, etc. I decided to go with charity.water - www.charitywater.org. This name came up in a number of lists, plus they had a 100% policy - which meant that 100% of funds they raise go towards helping people, no cuts for budgeting in day to day operations of non-profit itself, besides they promised detailed report at the end of the campaign so you can see exactly where your money is going, combined with he fact that water is essential to life itself and that so many countries still don’t have an access to clean drinking water it seamed like a no brainer, so I charged on and set up a campaign page -my.charitywater.org/dinara-chetyrova/birthday-wish.
What followed surprised me in many ways…
First of all turned out that it is really hard to motivate people to give money to you (even if it is not actually for you) although this must have been apparent I still was surprised how much harder it was to get a dollar then say “like” under a photo, people liked the pix on a post, or wrote how great the idea was, but none donated… My first donation had me broken into a happy dance, I have never been so happy to see virtual 25$ in my life…
Time went on - still no donations I was getting worried. My friends started coming through the closer it got to the big day and every donation made me super happy, even tho it didn’t go at all as I imagined, some even reached out to double check if this is really want I wanna do, because this no gift policy seamed a bit weird for them. This made me realize, that I might have not been fare to my friends, I was thinking I was releasing them from the agonizing pain of coming up with the gift ideas, providing them with quick and good for your soul option instead, but I failed to think that not everyone might feel the same way I do about certain things. I was in fact making them do something, they might not be comfortable with and I also secretly placed my own value on participation in my campaign, which you should never do, it is like wanting someone to love you and then expecting them to do it in the very specific way and getting upset if they didn’t, just because someone doesn’t show there love the way it is in your head doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
My birthday came and it was wonderful and I was showered with flowers and love from my friends donations or not. I saw how much I meant to them and it was amazing.
The birthday came and gone and I was still way under the campaign goal and a little upset, like I am bringing people down and then something amazing happened - one of my friends was passing on belated birthday wishes and she mentioned that donating to campaign made her feel so good, she decided to sign up for a monthly donations. This meant a world to me! To know what something I started made an effect on at least one person, made them motivated and got involved, that validated the whole experience to me, goal reached or not and this gave me an answer to the question I was faced with at the very beginning. “Why are you doing this?” - because if I can make a small difference in people’s lives I want to give it a shot and if I can make a small impact on someone’s heart, well this is just an icing on a cake. I know that in a grand scheme of things - one person is just a drop, but so many things starts with just one drop.
Week after my birthday another amazing thing happened - people I’ve only met in my life handful of times, and even relatively unknown people saw my many, probably annoying, FB/IG posts and pitched in, finally pushing me OVER my campaign goal and it felt amazing! Now thanks to my incredible friends, who handle me in my many states and go along with my many weird ideas, thanks to kindhearted acquaintances and even incredible strangers - 13 people will have an access to clean drinking water. This means 13 happy people plus super happy me.
Fundraising on any scale is hard and I have learned many things about myself doing this, I am so happy and grateful for every donation. I am sorry for such a long long post, but I wanted to explain my point of view and why I do, what I do and I hope it came across.
I also hope this might inspire you to get involved in any way you wish.
My charity water campaign is still active and will be for some time, I couldn’t figure out how to change campaign length for the life of me, but the more happy people - the better it is, so feel free to join in - my.charitywater.org/dinara-chetyrova/birthday-wish. No donation is small, you know my views on significance of drops.
If you wish to donate your time instead, you can join me in volunteering. More on how to volunteer in NYC here - www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/it-is-the-season-for-caring
If you read this far - thank you and
Happy clean water drinking
For the past year and I half I have been volunteering with New York Cares and last Thursday something exciting happened. I received Presidential Service Award and a letter of appreciation for the year of 2016 signed by the President Barack Obama, I am so excited to have little piece of history now in my house.
I talked about volunteering before and the ways you can get involved in, so if you want you can read more about it here www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/archives/11-2016 and as I mentioned there, I started to volunteer in a dark period in my life, when my world was falling to shreds and I was questioning everything I know about myself, friendship, love … all of the basic concepts I was once so sure of. I was morbidly depressed and while I found that it was so hard to get out and do something for myself it was easier to pick myself up and come to a project, because it was not about me… I felt like I was needed there, like I am making a difference, like my presence changes something. As corny as it sounds helping others helped me in a end and I am so happy that something that started as an escape from something so negative turned into something so positive, that now I have a physical prove that I can turn things around, that I chose love and compassion.
Right after I got my award from New York Cares office, I was picking up my friend Heide and ended up on her finance’s vlog. You can see as being all excited here (9:07) www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9V3a9Jxdo4
If you want to get involved please find more info on ways to volunteering here it-is-the-season-for-caring.html
Many people have asked me lately about volunteering opportunities in NYC, so I have decided to write this short and coincidentally my very first blog post.
I myself started volunteering little over a year ago. Truth be told I was going through a rough patch in my life and felt like everything was spinning out of control and since my own life was so unstable and all over crazy I thought why not channel my frustration into something positive. Being able to help someone else in need gave me a feeling of taking control over something and seeing immediate result gave an instant validation. Sometimes when you feel hopeless in your own situation it is helpful to get out of your own head and start helping others. I am not suggesting you can fix their lives but you will make a difference, change starts with even smallest of actions. May be that’s why people been showing more and more interest in volunteering opportunities lately, when the world seem to be spinning out of control you can choose to look inwards and start with yourself, you can choose making change, choose love. In any event, if you’ve been wondering about ways to give back to community and looking for volunteering opportunities, but didn’t know where to begin or felt intimidated, this post is for you.
If you have a cause you are really passionate about you can seek out non-profits dediicated to that particular issue, they are usually pretty open and encouraging to people wanting to volunteer, you would find all the information on their related web sites.
If you know that you want to get involved, but not sure where you will be most helpful I would suggest New York Cares. This is an organization I am doing all of my volunteering through and they are making it super easy and convenient. All you need to do is register here - https://www.newyorkcares.org/volunteer
attend an orientation which you can do either at one of few locations around city or even on line and after your orientation you are good to go!
Find a project you are most interested in here - https://www.newyorkcares.org/search/projects/results
Possibilities are endless. You can work with kids or elderly, you can walk dogs, clean up parks, work at soup kitchens, food pantries or shelters etc etc… really there are so many different projects list goes on.
My advise would be to try as many as you can, so you can find what really works for you.
Also don’t wait too long before signing in for your first project, life gets in a way and sometimes you will find 6 month passed by and you are wondering what was that thing you once wanted to do.
There’s an orientation that takes place at St. Francis Xavier shelter center and usually people attending could stay for a project (shelter clean up) that’s a great way of starting, because you get to jump into action right away and see what it is all about, besides that you will be provided with the important information about shelter system in NYC, lots of things I never knew about, I can promise you, you may work out slightly dirty, but your soul will feel much brighter and you will feel like you are actually making difference.
Another great way of volunteering is getting involved together with your friends. Me and my friend Heide have this tradition now, every winter we are signing up for Winter Wishes program - getting Christmas gifts letters from underprivileged kids, teens and seniors. This is a tone of fun, you get to play Santa for a bit, great way of getting into holiday spirit. We are usually making 3 days of joy out of it. Buying gifts together, gift wrapping party and delivering gifts, Heide in a Packers - Santa hat since she is a driver and in charge, me in a reindeer antlers.
Signing up for projects is easy, you can do it on line and you will get a reminder from a team leader, along with all the useful information you may need for the project, if for some reason you can’t make it (hey, things happen, no one will judge you) just be sure to de-register on line so someone else will have an opportunity to step up, the show must go on.
Well this is pretty much it. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, need more information.