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February 2008

sunday drive

i went for a sunday drive with friends to one of the beaches north of the city.  i joined vladimir and his family for a sunday walk and picnic on the beach. rock formations, like the one here, were scattered around the shore, make one think of different animals they resemble.  it was nice joining them for a wonderful chat.  vladimir has a full inventory of funny jokes, that with the help of olga, his daughter, i was able to understand.  vladimir and his wife sveta brought along a tasty picnic lunch of sandwiches, coffee, tea and crackers.  the tea was delicious standing in the chilly afternoon sun.

it's been a learning experience talking with someone else that's also trying to learn a language.  i can see the same feelings in them when i am at a loss for the foreign word i am looking for.  but my dictionary and olga's electronic one are always within reach so every new word is a small victory for each of us.  i prefer the paperback dictionary vs. and electronic one but i think i'll invest in a small digital version.  the paperback is a bit bulky to carry everywhere.

defenders of the motherland day

saturday is a holiday in russia.  it's "defenders of the motherland day",  formerly known as "soviet army day".  where russian men young and old are honored by russian woman for their service in defending their country from invaders. small gifts are usually given by women.  at first i thought it was more like a memorial day, but it seems more like a personal remembrance between women and men, than between people and the military.

i visited a russian submarine museum and explored one of vladivostok's fortifications with pavel and his wife maria.   amid the snow flurries, we drove first to the submarine near the harbor.  many russian men, apparently due to the holiday, were gathered near the museum.  i could see that most were older and in friendly discussions with each other.  the museum itself is an actual sub that the city had retired and placed on dry land.  after getting inside of it, you were able to crawl through the hatches and explore all the rooms.  it's a small sub in comparison to what russia has in it's fleet now,  but still very intriguing to see.  the control room was filled with pipe valves everywhere from ceiling to floor.  off to one side was a toliet and directly across from it was a small one man room for the radio operator.  another hatch took us into the captians sleeping quarters and eating area for the crew.  the last hatch opened up into the main crew's sleeping quarters/torpedo room.  the space would feel pretty cramped after a few days. 

after the sub we drove out to the fortifications and visited fort #6.  it was an impressive sight to see a structure that had stood the test of time for the last 100+ years.  inside we met the gentlemen that took care of the fort and provided guided tours.   i noticed all the hallways were pitch black. but this was remedied by the distribution of flashlights.  the tour itself covered walking down steps about 200m and took us through soldiers quarters, cannon rooms, lookout posts, and supply rooms.  a lot of the devices used at the time were long gone but some remained like the pipes used to communicate across the hallways to one another.  we went outside again at one point and to the top of the fort and could see the amazing 360 degree view of the countryside.  the winds were so strong though that i felt like we could easily be blown off the hillside.  we circled back around the outside to the entrance and thanked our guide for the tour.

paval, maria and i finished our day with lunch at cafe republic.  it was a great chance to see some more history behind vladivostok while hanging out with new friends.

stranger in a strange land reports "land not so strange"

poker - n. a game of cards; an example of bonding while trying to take someone's money.

last friday night, i had some of the guys over for a poker night.  it took some convincing for a couple novices but since it was the first big gathering i had hosted, everyone i invited turned up.    i recommended a small buy-in of $5.  so that's all anyone could lose for the night. the game proceeded till after midnight before we stopped and counted our winnings.  all in all, it was a good night of entertainment.  everyone agreed we should play regularly.

saturday afternoon, i headed out to meet a new russian friend, galina.  another friend of mine, evgenia, had introduced us.  as a way to make friends and learn the language, i've asked evgenia to offer my time to any takers that want to practice their english.

after having a coffee, galina and i headed to vladivostok's russian historical museum.  the museum's displays covered everything from early settlers, war, currency, culture and art.  there was a huge section devoted only to tea making which made sure you knew russians enjoyed their tea.

galina spoke better english than i did russian, which seems to be the trend right now.  but i tried to make sure i used russian whenever i could. after a few hours in the museum, we walked to a nearby art gallery where she had heard a photography exhibit was being shown.  but it turned out the exhibit was a local painter instead.  ironically, it was the same exhibit, i had been offered a ticket to see, a few weeks ago.  so we stayed anyway to check it out.  i tried to read each painting's title while galina translated.  one picture had a word that galina wouldn't translate, she just told me "that's a bad word".

after the gallery, we thanked each other for the pleasant time and said our goodbyes, with promises to ring each other again in the future.

sunday morning - vladimir and his daughter olga picked me up for a trip to the local auto museum. some more friends that evgenia knows and thought i would enjoy meeting.  vladimir spoke mostly russian but knew a few words in english.  his daughter olga spoke english very well and only had to stop a few times to describe what the english word was she was looking for.  i'm really getting use to saying "kak pa-rooski...?", meaning "what's russian for .....?".

the museum was slow to open, so vladimir offered to take me for a drive to a lookout point nearby where you can see the ocean.  we drove to a high spot in the city and i saw the cold blue-white water with ice patches stretching out as far as i could see.  the sun shines often in the winter here, and today was no different.  it's rays shined back off the icy water in a broad path from horizon to shore.  i could see two large ships making their way out for their mid day travel. 

we made it back to the museum, and spent a couple hours looking over different motorcycles, cars and even scooters that had come from russia, germany, japan, and the usa, among other places.  with olga's help, vladimir and i exchanged stories about growing up with cars; our fathers, relatives and our own.  it was interesting to hear the historic background about russian automobile companies and we told about the increase of imported vehicles i see in russia now.   japan is also leading the exporting race, not only in the us, but also in russia's far east.

the russian manufacturer ГАЗ, pronounced "GAZ", meaning gorkovsky avtomobilny zavod.  gorky being the city in russia and zavod meaning "name".  GAZ was formed in 1929 as a partnership between the ford motor company and the soviet union, it was originally called NNAZ.  the name changed when the city was renamed after maxim gorky.  several of the russian vehicles, i saw, had the three letters largely embossed on the front end.

one of the last cars we saw was one made in the ukraine, called a zaporoshez.  olga told me russians had a phrase for it, "only 5 minutes of shame and then you're at work".  it sat in a corner all by itself, as if all the other cars didn't want to play with it.

and as icing on the cake, i even got to see a few russian scooters. two kinds were on display, the vyatka and tula, the former a 150cc while the latter a 200cc. pics of both below.

the tula, was decked out in some airbrush art depicting a medusa, with more artwork on the sides.  the rest of the pics are in my flicker account under vlad auto museum.   click here for the link -

we finished our museum tour and vladimir drove me home while i exchanged email addresses with them.  we talked about camping in the summer and plans for more activites in the upcoming weeks.  hope they had as much fun as i did. 

on being sick and meeting new people

when you're sick you think about how it was like to be healthy. but when you're healthy you sometimes take that for granted.  last week was the first time i really was stuck in bed since i got here.  i think i had the flu since it started off as a fever monday night.  i could tell i had something that afternoon.  the next day brought a sore throat and the day after a sinus headache. by the fourth day the headache had subsided and my nasal passages were trying to drain.  finally, on the fifth day i was left with a nasty cough.  i should have just stayed home from work but instead took just a 1/2 day to catch up on sleep.  hopefully, i stayed clear of spreading my germs to anyone else.  of course everything i had at home in the way of medicine came up short in helping me. so now i've restocked my supply to be ready for the next illness.  fortunately, i had cooked enough food over the weekend to get by on leftovers instead of having to spend a lot of time on my feet trying to make something.  all my free time that wasn't spent lying on the couch or in bed was filled up with menial tasks so that didn't leave much time to do anything else. 

but the good thing was i did recover in time to join some friends saturday night downtown for dinner.  we were celebrating a birthday and the chinese new year.  it was at a place named roughly "cafe - the red" or the red cafe.  i had a simple caesar salad and some wine which were both very good. 

sunday morning, i agreed to join another american here in meeting a friend of hers for coffee.  we had a nice visit in the top floor restaurant of a large department store downtown.  evgenyia met us as we arrived and we had a nice visit about what it's like living in vladivostok and the social activities available.  she was ready to fill up my social calendar and i got the impression that i could be as busy or as free as i wanted. ( but the former was her preference).  one thing i've noticed since being here, far east russian's are very social.  and if you're interested you will never have a dull moment.  i tend to enjoy time to myself so i'm hoping it doesn't get too filled up.  not wanting to be rude and knowing it's good to venture out more, i agreed to join in on future events.  she was already planning next saturday and sunday as a chance to meet more people.  i guess i'm cautious when it comes to jumping into a group of strangers.  most of the time it works out.  so we'll see how things go.

she also had a friend of hers, paval, arrive to join me in seeing the military gun museum later. he's interested in practicing his english just like i'm trying to learn how to speak russian. i wasn't sure the plan would work well since my russian is far worse.  but his english helped us to communicate and i was able to add bits of russian whenever he came up missing the right word. 

after coffee, the ladies left for another appointment and paval and i headed off to the museum.  the museum is located down by the shoreline and as we walked up the hill, i could see people out on the water fishing in the ice.  i was a great view and i wish i had my camera to take a shot.  but since i wasn't sure about the policy of taking photos at the museum (you can't by the way) i didn't bring it along.  next time i'll bring it just for the shots of the fish market and ice fishing. 

paval and i walked around outside looking at all the big artillary that was on display.  all the guns were used mainly during the 40's at the time of the russo-japanese war.  everything was hefty, large and intimidating as you can imagine.  the old paint and age was apparent but still looked good enough to fire off a few rounds.  it was just before noon, so we were there in time to watch the 12pm cannon being prepared for it's daily firing.  we stood about 15 feet away from the newer cannon as one of the men stood at the ready to fire it.  when 12 o'clock arrived the cannon was fired and i felt the deafening blast echo in every direction.  when the sound returned to my ears it was immediately filled with car alarms from the surrounding area.  paval and i were impressed and continued on inside to where the museum offered more displays for the patrons.

the museum was filled with more artillary, small arms and ammo.  there were also several panoramas in glass cases depicting how large fortifications were operated.  they showed gun formations, anti-aircraft equipment, armories and bunkers.  everyone was fasinating and the entry price to everything was only 50 roubles. (around $2 us)

paval and i headed out and he drove me around the fish market before heading back to pick up my car.  it was a nice morning and i was glad to get out and explore a little more of a city with a new friend.  paval confided to me, that even though he lived here all his life, this was the first time he had been to the museum. i told him that happens in the u.s. also, we put off seeing what tourists end up seeing more of.

so a busy weekend, but enjoyable.  now if i can just keep my colds at bay i might be able to get out more.