Last Blog Post

1This is my last blog post about our adventures abroad.  I have enjoyed my time in Russia and greatly enjoyed teaching and meeting new friends.  Singapore was a great conference, and spending time in London was a treat.

Now, it is time to look forward to new projects.  While in Russia, I bought a 1966 Mustang which is in need of restoration.  The previous owner had it for 30 years and took great care of it.  The body is in solid shape, and it runs and drives until I can complete some projects.  I’ll have it painted, throw on some new tires, and replace the engine and transmission, then proceed with other projects as time and finances allow.

I also have some ideas about changing my classes.  Professors in Russia do not use textbooks, so I am thinking about doing away with textbooks in my classes.  This will require a tremendous amount of work to ensure that students still see rigor and I can meet the course objectives and student learning outcomes for each class.  This will probably necessitate writing new curriculum for each class as well.

Tower of London

SAM_1300The entire afternoon at the Tower of London was enjoyable because of this man, a Yeoman Warder.  Yes, they are more commonly known as “Beefeaters” although nobody really knows where that name came from.  Anyway, this gentleman was very funny as he gave a tour of the Tower grounds, and you just couldn’t help but learn a little about English history.  The Tower grounds were the royal residence for a while, and a place where political prisoners where held and sometimes executed.  Two of the wives of Henry VIII were executed there.

In order to become a Yeoman Warder, you must have served at least 22 years in the British army, have achieved the rank of Sergeant Major or Warrant Officer, and then interview and be selected.  The Yeoman Warders actually live with their families on the grounds.

Westminster Abbey

SAM_1282Visiting this historic site was right up there with my favorite experiences in London.  It is hard to wrap your head around something that is over one thousand years old.  Unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside the main part of the church, but we could in some of the alcoves.  It was also rather humbling to see all of the great leaders — kings, queens, generals, poets, scientists, etc. — interred inside this site.  Here is Jake standing at a dedication for sailors, soldiers, and paratroopers from World War Two.

SAM_1293So, even though the building itself is ancient, it is still keeping up with the times.

Once of the ways the Abbey is staying current with important events was to install this dedication (below) to ten martyrs from the 20th century.  Included in this piece is Martin Luther King, but also including Maximillian Kolbe, Manche Mesemola, Janani Luwum, Elizabeth of Russia, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming.

Look Kids: Big Ben, Parliament

SAM_1254Great day getting around to different places yesterday.  We got to Abbey Road (see below) and saw Big Ben and Parliament, then caught the Tube to London Bridge.  Then we went back to the hotel, where I fell into a coma about 6 pm and woke up at 7 am this morning.  All of the travel from Russia to London to Singapore and back finally caught up with me.  I am not as young as tough as I used to be (and probably never was).  🙂

Westminster Abbey is just beside Parliament but it was closed, and we may go back today.  Our task for today is to get on a riverboat cruise and see the sites from that perspective.  Tomorrow’s plan is to hit the Tower of London since, shockingly, the forecast calls for rain and we will be able to see the inside of the tower and not have to worry about the weather.  The following day, it is hard to believe, involves my getting on a plane and going home.

Abbey Road

SAM_1245When we started planning our trip to London, the only thing I asked to do was venture out to Abbey Road where the Beetles took the famous picture used on the cover of their album.  The thing that is not obvious in the original photo is that this is a very busy “T” intersection.  So, whoever took that original picture was standing in the middle of the street.  I was standing halfway into the street to get this picture at this angle.  Not a good idea yesterday as you can see the traffic.  There were also dozens of tourists waiting to have their pictures taken crossing the road.  (Dang tourists are always getting in my way.  I wish they would go home!)  Anyway, this was cool.

Singapore Was Cool

SAM_1227If you have been reading the blog, you know I went to a conference in Singapore entitled, “Unlearning Cold War Narratives.”  The idea is to look beyond the traditional two power, great man, way of looking at the topic.  My research says that people on the Northern Great Plains used the event for their own benefit economically, despite making themselves a nuclear target.  Not to brag, but my presentation was generally well received.

This was a great conference.  I met a lot of great folks who had different ideas about the Cold War, kind of like me.  We determined that when you start looking at local issues within the context of the Cold War, things get complicated.  Sometimes, these local issues are not really Cold War issues at all.  Each presentation was great, but the one I will probably remember was given by a scholar from Chile, who argued that the Peace Corps initiative from the perspective of some people it was supposed to serve was not flattering.  Peace Corps volunteers came from America with ideas to organize communities around the world to help themselves, but brought no resources to do it with.  The scholar argued that villages in Chile had organization skills, and lots of people willing to help out, but what they lacked was resources.  The young people coming down to his country were actually kind of insulting, insinuating that the people were too incompetent to figure out how to help themselves.  The university was absolutely beautiful, but organized a little differently due to the tropical climate.  Hallways are not air conditioned, just the rooms and offices.

Platform Nine and Three Quarters

Jake 9Ann and Jake visited the set of Harry Potter today, and here is Jake at the famous platform.  Ann also took pictures of him in Diagon Alley, and the shop where Harry picked out a wand.  They go to Stonehenge tomorrow.

I had a great day at the conference, and learned a ton about Cold War historiography in other nations.  We heard from scholars from Latin and South America, Canada, Russia, South Africa, the US, Austria, and probably other nations I can’t remember off the top of my head.  I took some pictures, but I can’t download them from my camera until I get back to London.

Geez Its Hot and Humid Here!

I can’t post any pictures of Singapore right now because it is so hot and humid here that my camera can’t take a picture.  The lens keeps fogging up.  I’ll take it with me on my rounds today and see it if straightens out.

Singapore is a very modern country/city.  It is only 700 square kilometers, and most of that is taken up with the city.  The airport is beautiful, the roads are great, but it is very expensive to live here I heard.

The university is very close, and I think we will spend much of the day in meetings, but it should be interesting.  I’ll let you know.

That Was Cool!

SAM_1168On our way from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square today, we happened to come across the Queen’s Guard practicing for a major ceremony to be held tomorrow at Buckingham Palace.  These guys are good!  Not only were they in step, but everyone lifted their legs a uniform height, and they lift their legs very high.  That is exhausting, and you just know that the soldiers train for hours and hours that nobody sees, and they have to be in great physical condition.  There were several hundred soldiers on parade today.SAM_1177

I am heading out to Singapore in a few hours, and I am not looking forward to the flights.  Almost an 8 hour flight to Dubai, change planes, and an almost 8 hour flight to Singapore.  I’ll be in the city about 48 hours and then do it again, only in reverse.  We will have a few days left in London, and then home to Minnesota.  I’ll try and post some pictures of Singapore.

Do Svidaniya

SAM_1135We stopped by the university today to say our final goodbyes.  Rustem had the idea to take a photo outside the history department as we walked out for the last time.  Great idea.  On the far left is our good friend Radmir, then Rustem, me, Jake, and Ann.

I really, really hate goodbyes.  I hope to come back one day, and see these folks again.  My time is Russia was amazing, and the Russian people are fantastic.  As we said many times, our governments may not get along well at times, but this does not mean that we can’t be the best of friends.

Tatar Wrestling

SAM_1119Irandyk (E-ron-dik – in the red shirt) is a coach and former champion in Koresh, an ancient and traditional Tatar form of wrestling.  Eugene, in the black shirt, agreed to wrestle Irandyk in order to demonstrate the sport.  First, each contestant wears a towel tied around their waist, and each person must keep their left hand on their opponents towel.  The object is to gain an advantage over your opponent and throw them to the ground.  So, the best defense involves trying to keep your center of gravity well away from your opponent while trying to get your opponent off balanceSAM_1118.

Eugene was a great sport for agreeing to wrestle Irandyk, but he ended up getting thrown a few times.  I think it was more about having fun than really competing, but it was interesting to see.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a demonstration is worth many times more than that.  Folks tried to explain to me how the wrestling worked and using a towel, but it didn’t really sink in.  This was much easier to follow.


Farewell Dinner

SAM_1128Our farewell dinner with the history faculty was held at a former Young Pioneers Camp (think Communist version of the Boy Scouts) about 20 minutes outside of Ufa.  It was a nice picnic area with a small lake and cabins, and I noticed that the trees in Ufa are much taller than trees in Worthington.  Good ideas are kind of universal, and a Russian BBQ is pretty similar to a BBQ in Minnesota, including the mosquitos!  We had grilled chicken and pork, and lots of fresh veggies.  People came and went throughout the evening, so there were a few folks not present for this picture.  What a really nice evening.  I will truly miss the people I met in Ufa, including the faculty, staff, and students.  As we said many times last night, hopefully this is not the last time we meet, I hope to come back to Ufa again.

Outside of the Theater

SAM_1043This is a beautiful old building where Ann, Jacob, and I went to watch The Nutcracker last night.  This was built in the early 20th century, back when buildings had a personality and were not just functional structures.

Anyway, the performance was fabulous, and we enjoyed it immensely.  I have posted a number of photos of the inside of the theater today, so my commentary will be somewhat limited.

Walking into the Theater

SAM_1059As soon as you walked inside the theater, there was a grand staircase to bring patrons to the balcony seating.  It was not possible to capture the entire staircase which led off to either side, so I had to focus on one side.  The beauty of the room is almost overwhelming, and the lighting was breathtaking.  Taking a picture of a light is always problematic, but the chandelier hanging in the center of the staircase was huge, glorious, and truly mesmerizing.

Walking into the Auditorium

SAM_1061This was quite impressive when we walked in.  The balconies are all gilded with gold trim, and the majesty of the actual auditorium is inspiring.  I was bowled over by the history of where I was, imagining the performances that had taken place in this venue over the last hundred years.

Orchestra Pit

SAM_1070The music was absolutely fantastic!  Just below the stage was the orchestra pit, and since we were only 2 rows away, we had great seats to see and hear the performance.

The Rest of the View

SAM_1071As you can see, the rest of the auditorium is quite impressive.  Pictures of the ceiling did not turn out well, but everything about the room was ornate.  They don’t build them like this anymore.

Mr. Lenin

SAM_0944This monument of Vladimir Lenin is pretty darn impressive.  It was in a park we visited with our friend Kamil.  I’m not sure how tall the base is, or the statue itself, but there is a guy standing near the base of it to give you perspective.  The picture is pretty dark because it was cloudy that day, and when the sun did emerge from behind the clouds it was in the wrong position to take a good picture.  Anyway, this was kind of cool.

So, we are going to see The Nutcracker tonight, and tomorrow afternoon we are getting together with some members of the faculty to say farewell.  This weekend is taken up with packing, cleaning the apartment, and moving into a hotel, and then Tuesday morning we head off to the airport.  I met many wonderful people while in Russia, especially Rustem Kamilovich Khabibullin, who I can’t thank enough for everything he has done for us.

The Nutcracker

SAM_0975The calendar on the wall of the theater on the corner of Lenin and Pushkin Streets has a number of attractions, most of which I don’t understand, but tomorrow is a performance of The Nutcracker, performed by a local dance company.  We are going to see it, and I am really looking forward to it.  I’ve heard of this performance my whole life, but never had much time for this sort of performance art.  Now I am happy to learn about something new.  I read up on the storyline, so I hope that it makes sense when we see it.  I will be sure to take some photos and post here.

The days have been pretty relaxing for the last few weeks.  I have no classes and no responsibilities anymore, so our hardest decision each day is whether to go out for lunch or for dinner.  I have not seen many of the people I know at the university lately.  We stopped by twice last week and chatted with people, and stopped by yesterday but didn’t see anyone.  We will stop by again in the next day or so, probably to say our goodbyes.

Making Memories

SAM_1014It occurred to me the other day that we only had a few pictures of Jacob in Russia, so he and I went for a walk yesterday with the objective of making some memories.  For the rest of Jacob’s life, the pictures we have of him in Russia will be his only connection to this adventure, so we needed to make some more.  I like this picture, proof that his checks work and can he can form a smile.

This is probably my favorite spot in Ufa, just a simple brick road with trees on either side, but there are many benches and it is a nice spot just to sit and watch the world go by, pondering its meaning.  I’ve posted pictures from this spot many times, and the trees are even more green and full than before.  Ufa is a beautiful city, full of friendly people.  I will miss it.