(Continued from How To Meet A Ukrainian Supermodel & Foil A Pickpocket In 2 Days)
I woke up in my spacious rental apartment in Kiev and yawned. It was super early, but I had to get going and pack/leave the apartment, because in order to get to the airport I had to take a slightly complicated Metro/airport shuttle combo that would take at last 90 minutes, and I was finally leaving Europe on an international flight that would stop over in Paris, New York City, Seattle, and finally back home in Hawaii. The doorbell rang, and the friendly Ukrainian maid who was cleaning up my apartment came up, took my copy of keys, and politely gave me back my security deposit.
As I boarded the metro that would take me to the main train station, where I would pick up the aiport shuttle, I glanced one more time and the hustle and bustle of the Ukrainians all around me. Even after more than a week and a half in The Ukraine, I still couldn’t get over how fit, in shape, and overall stunning the women in this country were. It wasn’t just the younger girls, even the mom’s who were pushing around strollers and had obviously just been pregnant were totally in shape. Every thing that I had heard about the Ukraine and how attractive women were in this country had been true, and Antonio and Matt could totally attest to that. The only thing that sucked was that almost none of them spoke and real English, so this whole trip had just been some wistful American staring from afar on our part. Little did I know that was all about to change.
I got off the metro, picked up a small side-breakfast/lunch (kebab wrap, of course…it was Europe, after all!), and headed towards the multiple waiting airport shuttles. Hundreds of Ukrainians were jostling back and forth with their luggage, and the multiple official purple-colored airport shuttles were slowly getting filled up with yawning travelers, in the early morning dawn. I found one nearly-empty van, gave my 50 Hr to the bored-looking driver, who took my small carry-on luggage and put it in the back of the van, and I boarded the van with just my jacket, carry-on backpack, and my wallet and passport in my front pocket. As I got onto the airport shuttle, and quickly made my way to an empty row, eager to dig into my breakfast kebab wrap, a sketchy-looking and disheveled shaved-head Ukrainian guy sitting next to the row I was trying to get to suddenly got up and approached me.
The weird Ukrainian guy looked drugged out or drunk maybe, and was mumbling something unintelligible in Ukrainian. I tried to pass him in the aisle on his right, but he moved left. So I tried to pass him on the left, and then he moved right. As he bumped into me multiple times, I just started to get annoyed because this bumbling Ukrainian guy was keeping me from settling down, relaxing, and enjoying my scrumptious kebab wrap. He seemed to be trying to offer me a place to sit down, which was really strange because basically the van was nearly entirely empty and there were plenty of other unoccupied rows. And the dude KEPT bumping into me. Something didn’t feel right, and I unconsciously kept my hands tightly in my pockets clutching my wallet and passport. Eventually, I just gave him a hand motion like “Dude, don’t worry I can find my own row!” and the Ukrainian guy look dismayed, and sat back down in his row.
I sat down and pulled out my kebab wrap and started wolfing it down, settling in for the ride to the airport. Glancing over at the strange Ukrainian guy who had been trying to offer me his seat/bumping into me, I wondered what the heck was up with him and why he seemed so distracted. At that moment, a Ukrainian family ran on board the shuttle. A young couple, along with their daughter and son scrambled on board the shuttle, and hectically began looking for seats on the shuttle as well. As the mom, daughter and son sat down, the same wacky Ukrainian guy suddenly stood up and started mumbling/bumping into/offering his row of seats to the dad. After a bit of more bumping and apologizing, the dad made his way past the weird Ukrainian guy and sat down next to them. As I watched this whole scene go down, I suddenly had a bad suspicion: This weird Ukrainian guy was a total freaking pickpocket!
The strange potential Ukrainian pickpocket turned away from the dad, after that whole period of bumping into him, and slyly looked down and quickly counted some Ukrainian Hr bills. Red alarms rang out in my mind. “Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “Did he have that money before? Holy crap, is that the DAD’S cash?” I wasn’t sure. I quickly patted myself down and realized that nothing was missing on me; I still had my wallet, my passport, and everything that had be securely tucked into my skinny jeans front pockets. For a couple seconds, I considered talking to the Ukrainian dad and telling him my suspicions, but I had NO idea if he spoke English, and I wasn’t absolutely sure that I had seen him get pickpocketed. I looked back at the potential pickpocket, and realized he wasn’t in his row anymore, and that he had actually already slowly stumbled off the shuttle. I saw him talk to another random guy in the crowd, say something in his ear, and then they split up and walked in different directions. More red alarms went off in my mind. Suddenly, the Ukrainian dad behind mestarted getting agitated, patting himself down and yelling. “Oh fuck,” I thought to myself.
You don’t have to understand Ukrainian to recognize the frantic look of someone who has just had all his cash taken out of his wallet and been pickpocketed. The Ukrainian dad ran off the shuttle, hopelessly scanned the teeming crowd of train station travelers on the sidewalk for a few minutes, and dejectedly came back on the shuttle. Sitting down next to his family, I could hear him as he swore under his breath, and as his wife asked him what was wrong, once again I could recognize the painful look of someone who had to tell his family he had just been robbed. I felt like total and complete shit. Right under my nose, I had seen a guy first try to pickpocket me unsuccessfully and then totally rob the next family who had come by. Even after all my horrible experiences of Face Control & translational difficulties because of my lack of Russian/Ukrainian knowledge, after all my frustration with not being able to communicate with any of the gorgeous women in the country, THIS instance was the time from the Ukraine I will remember the most of how frustrating it was to not be able to speak the local language. To this day I wish I had said something out loud or to that poor dad who lost all his cash.
What a freaking close call. Luckily for me that fucking Ukrainian pickpocket had not counted on my small Asian frame and my skinny jeans with hands stuck in my pockets, otherwise I might have never left the country that day. He would have taken my passport, my wallet, and I would have been totally and utterly fucked deep in Eastern Europe. Breathing a silent sigh of relief, I restlessly napped (keeping my hands in my pockets the whole time) while the airport shuttle drove us all the way to Kiev International Airport. At this point I just wanted to get home before something potentially worse could possibly happen to me. I was arriving at Kiev’s airport a few hours early just to make sure I wouldn’t miss my flight and could relax before my long flight, half way around the world, back to Hawaii. I got off the shuttle after it arrived, and gave a last empathetic look at the dejected Ukrainian family, who was starting off their journey with a lot less money than they had had before they got on that shuttle, and took off to my Air France check-in counter.
I realized that I had come to the airport so early that there weren’t even staff members manning the Air France counter to give out tickets and check in passengers, and so I sat down at some nearby airport lobby chairs to wait for an hour or so until they arrived. Still feeling rotten about missing the opportunity to save a Ukrainian family from financial distress, I was so distracted that I didn’t realize who was sitting in front of me. But slowly, I became aware that in the row of chairs across from me there was a girl who was quite easily one of the most gorgeous women I had EVER seen in my entire life. And she was Ukrainian. And she was glancing at me while she was filing her nails. My pulse quickened, and I straightened up in my chair and casually took a better look at her.
She was tall (like 5’9”) and slender, with flowing brown hair pulled up in a ponytail and huge blue eyes. With pale-skin, wearing a hip leather jacket and jeans, and with a high-end carry-on wheeler next to her, she obviously knew a thing or three about fashion. I thought furiously…What was my in? How could I possibly talk to this gorgeous girl who would probably make most men stammer if they tried to say hello? I figured I would casually check the Air France counter one more time and try to figure it out. As I walked over to check what I knew would already be an empty counter, I thought to myself, “I have to get closer to her, I can’t exactly yell at her from across an airport lobby.” First things first…I strolled back near her and casually (yet deliberately) sat down next to her, leaving one seat between us so it didn’t feel weird. My brain was working over time. I saw her glance at me and smile slightly, then go back to filing her nails. Her deep blue eyes were calling me, and I knew I had to make a move soon or I would regret it for the rest of my life. I had no idea if she even spoke English, and for all I knew, like most of the other women in the Ukraine she had a good chance of only really knowing Russian or Ukrainian. But fortune favors the bold; I noticed something that the casual observer would not have picked up on and took the plunge.
“You dropped something down there,” I said to her, pointing to a 0.01 Hr coin I saw beneath her seat. She looked up, looked down at the totally insignificant coin, and laughed at me.
“It’s not mine,” she said through some laughter, “and it’s not worth much in our country anyway.”
Holy crap, she spoke English! And really good English too…That was all I needed. She asked me what I was doing in the Ukraine. I leaned over and the words started pouring out. I told her all about my crzy travels through Poland and Ukraine, how excited I was to actually find someone who could actually speak English, how I had almost been pickpocketed just minutes ago. With each sentence, with each smile, I knew she wasn’t just a pretty face but also was totally friendly and eager to meet new people. Her name was Katerina, and she told me she was a model going to Paris to work, hence why she was on the same Air France flight routing through Paris with me. I breathed a silent prayer of thanks, because I knew I had at least 2 more hours to talk and hang out with this girl.
And she wasn’t just a wannabe model, like so many girls in LA, New York, etc are always claiming to be. Katerina was a cover model, with a legitimate agent, portfolio, and income. She told me the funny story about how she had been discovered at the age of 17 while handing out flyers on a busy Ukrainian street, and how she had lived a whirlwind life of fashion shows, runways, living in cramped dorm-style apartments in cities as far away as Tokyo, Shanghai, and Paris the whole time with other models. She opened up about how difficult it could actually be to be a model, and how difficult it was to come home to her small city Ukrainian family and friends who have never left and could barely understand what her life was like. She had all these experiences she wanted to share with people but couldn’t find anyone who could understand her traveling lifestyle. Katerina told me one of her biggest regrets about being a model was that she would sometimes meet someone so amazing, fascinating, someone she had a real connection with, but that because of her work and constant travel she would never be able to spend as much time with them as she wanted to.
I listened, enraptured by our conversation and still stunned that this stunning woman was actually taking the time to listen to me or say anything to me at all. After 10 days of having almost no conversation with any of the women in the entire country, now I was talking to arguable one of the country’s most beautiful women and it was going great! I told Katerina more about my life in Hawaii, and growing up as an Asian American in suburban New York, college in California, the gorgeous beaches and mountains and scenery of Oahu, and how living a life of constant travel and constant work on a beautiful island with friends coming in and out of my life all the time was a mixed blessing. We looked at each other after awhile breathlessly, silently knowing we had a connection.
That day, I could have sat there and talked to her for hours. But wouldn’t you know it, an hour quickly shot by and the Air France counter opened up. We decided to check-in, and as I casually strolled to the front of the line (Thank you, Delta Sky Team Alliance hook-up!) to check in and get my ticket first, I could feel Katerina’s eyes on me. “See you on the other side…come find me,” I said with a twinkle in my eye, and she nodded at me and gave me a smile that made me feel weak in the knees. It felt nice to be able to slightly look like a big-shot who gets hooked up by the airlines in front of an international model who is probably used to seeing a lot of other guys who were way more of a big-shot than I was. I knew I would see her at the gate, so without a word to her I strolled over and waited in the long line for security. As much as I wanted to talk to her more, she was in line and I didn’t want to seem to clingy or overexcited. I knew I would see her later.
I finally made it through the slow Kiev Airport security line, made it to my gate, and picked a very open row near the boarding gate that would give me a view of the people coming out of security. I wanted her to come to me, I was hoping she would at least. So I sat there patiently, working on my laptop. As the minutes dragged on, I got a little worried. Was I at the wrong gate? Did she maybe mean she was going to a different flight? I tried not to let my anxiety get the better of me. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Katerina’s statuesque figure strolling through the crowd with her roller luggage, and she entered the Duty Free Store near our gate to do some window shopping over there. She was back. I heard silent choruses of “Hallelujah!” in the back of my mind. I had more time with her, even though it wasn’t much.
As I tried to act real casual-like, playing games on my iPhone without looking up, I saw Katerina in my periphery coming out of the store. She briefly looked around at the numerous rows of chairs at the gate, saw me, and without hesitation she came straight over to me, smiled and sat down. Without any chair separating us. “Hey you,” I said, “Glad you made it through!” With those simple friendly words, our conversation picked up where we left off. Katerina bubbled as she told me about all the places she wanted to visit in the world, about how her time as a model had give her a love of traveling, and how she was fascinated by different cultures and cities all over the world, even the ones she had never been to. I could feel all the Ukrainian guys at the gate glance incredulously at me, as if to say “How the HELL is a guy like him able to get a girl like THAT to talk to him?!” I didn’t care. Katerina and I were in our own little world.
“The world is a small place,” I said to her. “Our parents used to have to write letters across the seas to each other and their friends. Now we can just pick up a phone and Facebook each other, text, or even see each other over Skype!” I could tell that piece of information, even though it was so obvious made her feel better. It definitely made me feel better. As the hour flew by, and we got to know more and more about each other, our hopes, our dreams, I realized the action around the gate was increasing. It was getting time to board. We had run out of time. It was too soon for me, perhaps for Katerina too.
“Come here,” I said, motioning to her to lean into me. “We have to take a picture to document this awesome time and random meeting.” She gladly obliged and with her leaning on my shoulder, I took probably the best couples-selfie I had taken in a long time. Then, we sat there looking at each other silently for a brief moment. I could feel my heart thumping. Her eyes were as wide as mine. As the Air France staff began to announce boarding groups, I said to her, “Do you feel this?” and I motioned to her and back to me, at the small distance separating us, “We are totally having one of those moments.” She nodded her agreement and smiled. My heart melted again. We made plans to meet up again somewhere, anywhere in the world. We had no idea where, although I was sure that I could one day make it happen. When two star-crossed travelers set their mind to it, anything can happen. But it was time, we had to board. The flirting finally ended. Almost ended, at least.
As we got in line to board our plane, handed our tickets over to the Air France gate agent, and we slowly but surely made our way down the gate to our seats, I strolled side by side with her, making more casual small talk about how much our long flight was going to suck and how we hoped there wouldn’t be any screaming babies on our plane, I suddenly knew I wanted to make one more strong statement. One last gesture. Something to show Katerina that I wasn’t just one of those random smooth-talkers in an airport that I’m sure she meets in every city and every country she goes. I had to give her something to remember me by. But what? We were on the jetway, it was too late to go to the buy something. Then, in a flash of brilliance, it hit me.
I reached into my pocket, which had come SO close to almost being pickpocketed, and reached for my wallet. I took out a crisp American dollar bill, and with Katerina watching me in confusion, I said “Hey I’ll make you a deal. Take this…” And with a flourish and loud noise I ripped the dollar in half as Katerina looked at me shocked.
“Keep one half of this, I’ll keep the other half,” I said. “There is only one other part of this dollar that will match the other part in this entire world. When we meet again, I want you to have it on you, okay? Because we WILL definitely meet again, I’m sure of it.” As the realization of what I was doing dawned on Katerina, she got an “Wow, that’s really cute…AND creative!” look on her face, and gladly accepted the half of the ripped dollar. With that we boarded the plane, and as I sat down in my row and waved at her and she waved back, I quickly made sure there were no last lingering Ukrainian pickpockets around me and settled in for the flight. Sure I thought, that was a cheesy last move. And sure, it was only a $1 and was worth basically nothing. But nobody can deny that it wasn’t totally inspired, memorable, and kinda romantic. Sometimes the greatest things in history can come from basically nothing.
The flight passed agonizingly slow, and I watched some movies, drank some wine, and passed into a fitful nap. When I finally woke up as we were landing in Paris and we were disembarking, there was a sudden mad dash of all the passengers as people scattered to make their connecting flights and past security again while others were eager to get through customs and into the beautiful bright lights of Paris. I scanned the crowd frantically, and finally locked eyes with Katerina. We walked side-by-side with each other, until I had to take off down a hallway with the rest of the In-Transit passengers.
“Well, this is my stop!” I said, trying to hide the sadness in my voice. I gave her a huge that was not nearly long enough. For a brief, fleeting second, I debated dropping everything. Work? WHAT work? I started thinking maybe I could walk out of the airport, take an extended break from my old life, and start a new one in Paris with this exciting, and vibrant girl before me. What was stopping me? But that day, although I had managed to have a lot of balls before, I stopped just short of making the ultimate travel sacrifice and missing my flight. Turning away from Katerina I walked away from her. And as she veered towards the exit, I took a long last look at the Ukrainian vision of beauty, culture, and perfection that was walking away from me. She waved a goodbye to me, over her shoulder, and I waved back. “See you in this life…or the next,” I said quietly to myself and nobody else in particular. And then she was gone.
I stood there for a bit wondering if I had just imagined the whole thing. All I had was her name, the few pictures we took together, a promise that she would contact me on Facebook, and some amazing memories from the last few hours. The entire experience seemed surreal. On the long flight home, as I stopped over in New York, Seattle, and finally back in Honolulu, all I could do was think about Katerina and wonder if I would ever see her again. When I landed back home, I breathed a sigh of relief when I found her on Facebook, uploaded the selfie photo of us together at the airport with the message, “Miss Ukraine and me yet?” The hours ticked by, and finally gloriously the reply came, “Heeeyyyy : )))) I was so busy, I’ve missed even myself : )))))” We chatted the next few weeks, messaging back and forth, always talking about how we would one day get to see each other again. But if life as a traveling bachelor has taught me one thing, it’s that people constantly come into and out of your life in your travels, and it takes either fate or an extraordinary force of will for two people to meet each other again in this world. Especially, it’s difficult for someone from the Ukraine, where visas out of the country are so hard to get unless you have a legitimate reason to travel. So I sat, went about my life, and wondered what would happen and whether I would ever see Katerina again.
Then one day, I opened my Facebook inbox and saw the message I had been waiting to hear from Katerina: “I’ve got my working American visa! Maybe I will come to LA in January : ) If it will happened, I will let you know!!! And would be nice to see you : )” And then and there I knew that as crazy as the trip had been to Eastern Europe, Poland, and the Ukraine, it wasn’t over yet. After all the time and energy I had spent trekking halfway around the globe to The Ukraine, in a few short months the beauty of The Ukraine would incredibly be coming to me. And I quickly realized one thing: I had better start looking for airplane tickets back to Los Angeles in January.