Archive for the ‘russia’ Category

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As I Leave Russia

January 13, 2011

First, a couple of random observations.

Natalya, who hosted five of us for our night at Swan Lake, told me a couple of interesting things about cars in Russia. She started her car remotely as we left, and mentioned that she can program it to start every couple of hours if the temperature stays below a certain level. So in the winter, driving a car gets pretty expensive because it has to keep starting at night. Also, I asked her why some cars have the driver sit on the left, and others on the right. The latter are cars imported from Japan; the former are mostly made in Russia.

There are lots of walk-up roadside kiosks, usually near bus stops, that sell what I think of as “convenience store” goods, including beer and soda. Which means the “coolers” they sit in are, in winter, warmers. Can’t serve frozen Pepsi, right?

Here’s what’s been in the back of my mind this whole trip. I’m a Cold War kid–I was born six months after the Cuban Missile Crisis; my high school history teacher, John Shaw, held a globe in his hand as he explained why communism had to expand in order to survive; I remember where I was the night the US beat the Soviet hockey team in Lake Placid. So it feels like no small miracle that I am now sitting in the Moscow airport, about to board my fourth Aeroflot flight of the week. Aeroflot was one of the rare places where Soviet and American life intersected–bringing diplomats to the UN, or flying Brezhnev to a summit. For such an exotic symbol of my youth to now be ferrying me (in Boeing and Airbus jets!) from Germany to Siberia and back just astounds me. To watch a ballet with new Russian friends, to teach a workshop that helps Russian and American co-workers communicate more effectively–what a better use of human resources than planting another missile in another silo. There’s always plenty to despair about in the world, but this week reminds me of how far we have come too.

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First Day in Siberia

January 11, 2011

Christmas Tree in Front of My Hotel

Two slightly disarming images greeted me at Novosibirsk airport. First was the only sign (besides “Gate” and “Exit”) written in English in the terminal. It was a large red sign above the baggage claim that read

BEWARE OF PRIVATE TAXIS
FRAUD IS POSSIBLE WHEN PAYING
NO SAFETY GUARANTEED

To emphasize this final point, the baggage area was glassed in from the public area of the terminal, and I had to produce my baggage claim tags to prove the bags were mine. I think I’ve done that once in the US, and that was at Logan in Boston when I was in college. No worries for me and taxis, however, because the company I’m teaching for here had hired a driver already, and he was waiting with a company sign. The company also sent me his license plate and model of car, so I’d know I was going with the right guy.

My first exposure to the cold was very brief, as it took barely half a minute to get from the terminal to Vladimir’s cab. An airport sign said it was -22C, which is -8F. Given some of the -30 readings I’d seen online over the last few weeks, this was almost disappointingly warm. I mean, if I’m going to go to Siberia I may as well get some real Siberian winter, right? The walk from the cab to the hotel was even shorter. On our way in, however, I spotted what looked like a winter carnival a short distance from the hotel. Once I checked in, I decided to walk over to the carnival and take some pictures. I’ve posted several on my Facebook page.

As I mentioned earlier, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7, and this Monday was part of the holiday too. Hence the tree outside the hotel. Let me just say that the ten minutes or so it took to walk over to the carnival, take the pictures, and return, was plenty of cold.

The strangest thing I’ve seen so far is that some cars have the driver sit on the left, and others on the right. Fortunately all the drivers have agreed to drive on the right.

The hotel has an “ironing room.” It is open 24 hours a day, and is staffed. My first thought was that this was for the guests’ safety, but it could also be to keep the irons in the room. There were four ironing boards set up, with bottles of water to use (the water is not potable; there is a five-gallon water station on each floor of the hotel, and in each meeting room at my workshop location). The woman on staff had a PC with the screen turned away from the patrons–easier to play solitaire or buy stuff on eBay that way, right? She also was listening to a pop music station, playing songs in English and Russian in equal measure–“Poker Face” was on when I entered. There are over 70 channels on my TV, with exactly one–BBC World News–in English. I saw some dubbed American shows and movies, and a kids’ channel that was using Little Red Riding Hood to teach English.

My client hosts were incredibly gracious. They gave me a key to an empty office, where they’d set up tea bags and cups, a small plate of fruit, and a larger plate of cookies (they must have done some advance research). After I taught several of them made sure I had plans for the evening and suggested places I should check out. I knew I was so tired that I’d probably just eat in the hotel restaurant, then go to bed. Instead I fell asleep as soon as I got back to the hotel, and ate dinner at nearly 9:00 pm. I wanted something Russian, so I chose dumplings stuffed with elk meat. Fantastic!

After I finish teaching tomorrow I’ve been invited to join a group attending Swan Lake. I’m looking forward to it.

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Upon Arriving at Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow

January 10, 2011
  • I got upgraded on my Aeroflot flight, and the dinner included caviar with the appetizers and ossobuco as a main course. Top notch!
  • The plane was an Airbus A319 and it looked and felt new.
  • When the attendant announced we’d landed in Moscow, applause broke out. I’d not heard that since landing in Dublin in April.
  • The terminal is new, and its wood panels, stone floors, and bright lights gave it a clean, modern look, like other new airports I’ve been in lately.
  • Other familiar features: jetways that advertise for the airline, and for other products, in this case, Coke. And lots of people bringing lots of stuff back with them–the Orthodox Christmas is January 7, so this is the end of the holidays in Russia. (In fact, the terminal still has plenty of decorated Christmas trees.) Many passengers were using those metal carts to haul their luggage, skis, and shopping bags around.
  • Less familiar: flights coming in from Yerevan, Archangel, and Havana. And women with furs.
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