Previous month:
November 2007
Next month:
January 2008

December 2007

last days

the last days of 2007 are here.  the weather has hung around the freezing mark now for several weeks and snow is becoming more common.  that will probably put more of a crimp in travel plans than i realized.  but i still plan to get out to celebrate new years.  it might be a bit more subdued compared to the rest of the world, especially after seeing what bad driving and poor driving produces around here.

tonight, while driving home from work during the latest snowfall, i decided to see how the fj would handle the seemly vertical dirt road leading up to my house.   with an inch of snow already on the ground, i could tell the truck was doing its job in 4 wheel drive.  i reached the summit with no trouble.  as i circled around at the top of the road, i saw two cars in an accident on the adjoining paved street.  it was only a fender bender fortunately, but that seems to be the norm.  there's a nightly program on local tv devoted to just accidents where camera crews interview the drivers on the scene.  it's as macabre as you might imagine.

well, i've been working on my russian more now.  but it's tough being the only american here that didn't get to take classes back in the states before arriving.  so i'm starting from scratch or as my boss said, i'm a zero.  that still makes me laugh.  "yes sir, i'm a zero".  between trying my pidegon russian at work, taking lessons and working off language programs at home, i should make some progress.  one russian friend told me to watch movies or watch the local news.  so i've included more local tv into my routine and some of it is starting to rub off. 


snow day

with just a couple days before christmas, snow has fallen once again in vladivostok.  i should have known the weather was going to change after the balmy tempatures we had on saturday.  when i got up this morning, the cityscape greeted me with it's snow covered shroud.  i had planned on meeting a friend for lunch and giving them a ride back into the city, but after talking about the road conditions we decided we'd have to fore go the lunch.  i guess i'll be locked in the house for a day instead.

yesterday, several of us from work went to the circus again.  although this time it was a european troupe that stopped in vladivostok during it's road trip.  this time there were camels, elephants, and dogs along with the human performers. i was able to see more juggling, some nice rola bola work, and a solid devil stick/tennis racket routine. the jugglers had a great finale involving 3 jugglers feeding a continuous stream of metal plates to one juggler. i think there were 9 total. the tricky part for the catcher was keeping his eye on the next incoming plate while he was still placing the last one in a stack under his arm. it was enough to interest me, that i broke out my juggling gear later and practice for a bit. although it's been awhile, everything came back surprisingly fast. beats standing on a treadmill for an hour.

i'm ready for my closeup

early sunday morning, a group from the consulate gathered for a trip to the tiger station at gayvoron, about 279 miles from vladivostok.  it was going to be the longest trip i’d taken since arriving in russia and i was eager to see more of the country side.  eight of us took off around 830am in a small tour bus as the sun was still a distant orange ball on the horizon.  i took a small seat facing backwards and reached for the seat belt.  but after finding nothing, i settled in for what i hoped would be a safe and quiet ride.  the weather was below freezing and frost was forming quickly on all the passenger windows.  as we rode on, we gave up trying to scrapped the ice from the windows and instead watched the landscape slowly morph into diffused shapes.  i had packed my camera, russian language book, some breakfast bars and my ipod.  everyone chatted for a bit but eventually found their own way to pass the time.  it was still too dark to read so i listened to “this american life”.  the episode was about the island of nauru and the history behind it. 

after a couple hours of driving, the driver stopped in the city of ussuriysk to let us have a rest stop.  i stretched my legs and walked over to a nearby church to take a couple pictures.  even though it was mid morning, the weather was still freezing cold.  for a sunday morning, the streets were busy with people walking to a nearby train station.  i tried to see what else was farther down the highway but all i could see were more businesses and a hill where the highway disappeared. i hoped the weather would warm a bit more.  my choice of clothes kept me warm, but i grabbed the wrong pair of shoes and could already feel the ground sucking away the warmth from my wool socks.

after the short stop, we were on our way again. it was decided we’d skip lunch until after the tiger station.  by lunch time we rolled into gayvoron.  as we rode by the main street, i noticed what looked like water pipes wrapped in thermal covering running continually down each block.  as the pipes reached the street’s intersection, they turned 90 degrees straight up for 10-12 ft and then turned back another right angle to go over the intersection.  it was as if the cold hard ground was not suitable for the pipes and they were installed above ground to make it easier to manage.  the pipes continued like this for several blocks.  with pipes splitting off from one another to run off to separate buildings.

we reached the tiger station and saw the reserve fence that encompassed all the buildings and woodlands.  we left the driver to tend to the bus and entered the station, and immediately saw the siberian tigers resting about 100 yds away. we actually saw the tigers before we even met victor and lena yudin, the couple that have been maintaining the station for years.  victor was wearing a russian fur hat, camouflage pants and coat, and heavy leather boots.  his wife lena was also there to introduce herself.  victor quickly took us around for a closer look at the mother, nyurka, and one of the cubs. they were fenced off from the father, koucher, who we were told grew jealous of his own male offspring.  we all approached quietly and were amazed at the close proximity of the mother and cub.  the latter was resting against the tall fence.  if you were foolish enough, you could poke through the fence and touch him.  we talked to victor about the tigers and noticed nyurka was keeping a watchful eye on us.  occasionally, she would clean her fur with disinterest until something caught her eye again.  the size of her, makes it easy to see how an animal like that can overtake prey in a hunt for food.  the tigers color were the most striking though.  i’d seen several tigers in zoos, but these seemed to have the brightest contrast by far.  our visit only lasted a short time unfortunately, as we were told we had to move on due to possibly agitating the tigers.  but victor also had other animals he was tending and took us to another part of the reserve. 

as we entered another section, i could see several large metal cages with fenced walls and raised floors.  the first animals looked like raccoons, but victor called them coon dogs.  they didn’t look like north american raccoons with striped tails, instead they were larger with furs ranging from brown to pure white.  other animals were black bears, a fox, a sable, lynx, and some very large dogs. i believe the dogs were there more for guard duty then for show, since their demeanor was directed more to barking at us then anything else.  all the animals looked well fed and cared for, which surprised me.  the demand for meat and other food for the animals is the most costly item, and it didn’t appear that victor and lena were profiting from the reserve.  they politely except donations and offer pictures for sale as another way to help them continue their work.  they have a website where you can read more about the tiger station and also donate via paypal online.

after visiting with the other inhabitants in the reserve, we stopped to purchase photos of the animals.  victor doesn’t permit photos to be taken, but the photos they had for sale were done with professional quality and captured shots that you would be lucky to get yourself.  i bought a few and made a note to donate more via paypal when i got back home. 

we had spent over an hour at the station, and i was starting to feel the cold creeping through my shoes up to my ankles.  even my hands were starting to grow numb.  so with some regret we headed back to the bus to begin our journey back.  the driver, yuri, promptly hustled us back into the shuttle while gesturing to me that my nose was cold and i should warm up inside.  it was after we all got  back in the car, that someone told me the tempature was minus 22 degrees f.  i actually felt better knowing that, since i thought it was warmer and i was just getting old and feeling the cold more. 

we stopped for lunch at a nice little hotel called Fort-Tsement.  the service was quick and the prices were very reasonable.  i warmed myself up with some goulash and a beef vegetable soup. a little black cat was wandering around the café and introducing itself to patrons.  we finished up and headed out for the final long leg of the journey home.

on the way back, it seemed our driver was racing faster to beat the sunset.  as we took more and more curves, i could feel the bus start to lean precariously as if it was unable to keep all tires on the road.  a couple of times, we had to ask the driver to keep the speed down.  i think he was surprised that we were worried.  other drivers were keeping up with him and it was starting to look like we were in some mad race.  about 10 min after the final request to reduce our speed, we came over a hill and saw where an accident had just occurred. a sedan had run off the road after someone cleaved into it’s rear end with what resembled a plow.  or maybe they just lost control and slid into a power pole.  anyway, our speed was reduced after seeing the accident and no further comments were made.  we made it back to vladivostok with no other worries, aside from stopping at one petrol station and finding out they were sold out.  total time for the trip was 11 hours.  a great way to see the northern country, just make sure you bring warm shoes.

doesn't feel like xmas

for some reason it just doesn't feel like christmas is right around the corner.  i had every intention of putting up a tree and some lights but now it's so close to the holidays that i'd just have to take them down again.  i don't even have my pictures up yet.  citizens of vlad celebrate the new year and recognize january as more of the  month of holidays, so that's probably why.

this afternoon, i joined friends for bowling. it was a mixed group of japanese, americans and russians. a few games of friendly competition later, we then headed out for pizza down by the harbor.  i guess the pizza parlor had changed recently and was now offering exotic dancers friday and saturday nights.  more on that another time. tomorrow i'm heading off to a reserve up north to see some siberian tigers. should be an interesting trip and a chance to see more of the country side.  the trip is about 4 hours by car so i'll get plenty of time to work on my russian. 

russian trails and the fj

the time arrived for 4x4 only being driven in the city to becoming one that actually goes offroad.  my friend d in the pic offered to take me outside the city for a test drive/chrisening.  unfortunately it was late in the afternoon so we only had a few hours before daylight began to fade.  but it was the perfect day for a trip out to see how the fj would handle the russian country side.  we tried the first side road but notice the way was blocked by debris consisting of nails, wood and garbage.  not something that i had planned for with my offroad tools and resources.  however, the second road we tried was better.  although as we drove along a narrow path, i could see the brush start to thicken.  eventually the sounds of branches began to touch the side panels in what felt like an effort to slow my advance.  i knew the pristine paintjob would eventually show some signs of scratches once i began to explore.  and it did.  although looking back it felt better to put some wear on the car myself before someone eventually tried to do it themselves in a parking lot or side street. 

we reached the point in the pic where a stream crossing and ice, made us plan out the best approach.  my first attempt was too far to the right and at an angle, causing me to slide on the ice and end up pointing to the left.  But a second attempt taking the direct approach allowed me to ride up the ice with enough traction in the rear to push up over the bank.  a minor obstacle but enough to see the start of the fj's potential.  i'm looking forward to seeing how well it will do as we take our vehicles out more often.  (d's got a nissan xtrerra, my other choice i was thinking about before buying the fj.)

a couple more pics of the day out exploring can be found with a click here