Russian or Teenager?

SAM_0996A popular trivia category a few years ago was “Dead or Canadian?”  The rules were pretty simple, someone would say the name of a celebrity and you had to guess if they were dead, or if they were Canadian.  A variation of this game could be “Russian or Teenager.”  As soon as you show a camera to either group their smiles are gone faster than a free bag of potato chips at a Grateful Dead concert.  Take Jake, to the left, for example.  He is almost 14, and he has not smiled for a picture in about 2 years.  Most Russians don’t smile for photos either, which is strange because Russians generally smile a lot, just not for pictures.   Take Vladimir Lenin, the granite statue above Jake.  He is not smiling in this photo either, which makes sense because he was Russian.  To be fair, he probably had a lot on his mind at the time.  Anyway, I’ve often wondered how every Russian knows that I am an American, and I think it is the smile.  Americans smile all the time.  I was in line at the grocery store once, and the clerk never looked at me until I was right in front of her.  When it came my turn, she glanced up at me for about a second, and then said in perfect English, “Oh, hello.  Do you need a bag?”  I bet it was the smile.

Home Sweet Home

SAM_0983We posted a few pictures of the inside of our apartment, but as our time in Russia draws to a close, it dawned on me that I had never taken a picture of the outside of our apartment building.  Well, here it is.  This is where we live, and it has been a very nice experience.  There is some sort of medical clinic in the building beside us, but I really don’t know what they do there.  Right in the middle of the picture you can see the brown covering over the brown doorway.  Our apartment is on the fourth floor, straight up from the brown covering over the doorway.  Its the one with the air conditioner to the left of the open window.


SAM_0887Each day, as I walked to campus, I passed Bashkir State Medical University, pictured here.  This is just the main entrance to the university, but it is fun to walk by and see the medical students outside enjoying the sunshine, each of whom is wearing a white lab coat.  Ann chatted with a Russian doctor on the plane back to Ufa, and I’ve spoken to a few people about med school — its never too late to think about switching careers — so here is what we think we know.  Unlike America, where students go to four years of undergraduate schooling before applying to medical school, students in Russia go right from high school into medical school.  The first two years are the basic chemistry and biology, and we have been told that the first two years of medical school are taught in English because many of the students come from outside of Russia, and English is a common language.  The last two years are taught in Russian, and then students may have one or two more years of specialization training.

A Soviet Hero

SAM_0965I have always admired Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.  Since I’ve been in Russia, I have purchased a coffee mug with his picture on it, and a metal bust of him designed to sit on a shelf and collect dust.  Anyway, he was a Soviet cosmonaut who orbited the earth in 1961, and had a very interesting story.  He stood only 5’2″ but was larger than life, the son of workers on a Soviet collective farm.  In the months following his flight, Gagarin toured many countries and was the main attraction of many parades, but he was very uncomfortable with celebrity, according to some accounts.  Once he completed his historic flight, the Soviets were concerned with losing a national hero in an accident, so he was barred from further cosmonaut missions.  He went back to flying fighters.  On a routine training flight in 1968, Gagarin’s plane mysteriously crashed.  Many conspiracy theories emerged, but only a few years ago it became known that another plane flew too close to his, causing it to spin out of control and crash.  He was 34 years old.  In front of the aeronautical university in Ufa is this monument to the man.

Two American Heroes

SAM_0957While we were out and about one day, we came across a mother taking pictures of her daughter beside these fountains.  That seemed like a good idea, so I asked Jake to sit on the block while we took pictures of him.  Then I asked Ann to join him.  This picture turned out pretty well, I think.  He is not a little kid anymore, he is a teenager, whose voice has changed and he continues to outgrow his pants as fast as Ann can but him new ones.  And he is constantly hungry.  If Ann or I are thinking we are possibly, maybe hungry, he is starving.  While Ann and Jake were gone, I could survive on about $200 per month for all groceries, entertainment, etc.  Since they’ve been back, that budget is completely blown up.

Before and After, Again

Theater Square 2One of the cool things I stumbled upon when I first got to the city was this monument to girls acting in a theater.  You can probably see that each character has her arms in a different position, clearly a reference to acting and dancing.  Actually, this attraction is located in Theater Square, and the formal name of the attraction is the Fountain of Seven Girls.  You guessed it, this is located right beside a large but old theater.  At first I had no idea that this was a fountain.  The city covers up all of the fountains during the winter, and as you can see, the snow covered everything after that.  The snow was quite deep in the square, but this sight was so intriguing that I trudged through the sSAM_0890now to take a few photos.  On a side note, we may go see The Nutcracker in this theater, but TBD.

Any fountain worth its salt has water in it, and on one of our excursions we passed by the square and noticed a lot of people crowded around the fountain.  How different this place looks without snow and with the fountains gurgling.  The square was largely shaded by the trees that towered over it, and like everyone else around, we took a seat for a few minutes just to enjoy the peace, listen to the birds singing, and stare into the bubbling water.  As you may have guessed, the Russians love their fountains and monuments.  I think they got it right.

I Would Share a Lock With You

SAM_0937SAM_0932We went to the park where lovers write their names on a lock and then attach it to the bridge.  Some of the locks were very old, some very large, and one was actually a piston attached by screwing the end cap around the bridge cable and onto the connecting rod.  Very Creative.  I am not one for selfies, but taking a picture with my bride, on the lovers bridge, with the love-locks in the background seemed like a good idea.

In fact, every once in a while I am overwhelmed by how lucky I am to have found someone like Ann.  From the time she left El Paso to follow me to Fort Riley, Kansas, it seems like we have been traveling the world, never staying in one place too long and making it work.  Not many people would do that for the 87 years we have been married.

I’m not sure if you can read the lock to the left, but AHTOH and HATAWA (meaning Anton and Natasha) scratched their names into it many years ago from the looks of it.  I wonder if they are still together.  I hope so, otherwise it was a waste of a perfectly good lock.  In addition to putting the lock on the cable, the other half of the tradition says to throw the key into the river below.

I am crazy about my wife, but some people seem to think that I took way too much enjoyment in taking a photo of the fountain in which I just happened to photograph a couple cheerleaders.  That was purely an accident.  It was kind of like those people who take pictures of ordinary things, and discover that Bigfoot was lurking in the background.  🙂


Turkish Restaurant

SAM_0940This has been a week for visiting parks, and yesterday we went to three or four of them.  Visiting all those parks works up an appetite, so Kamil took us to the Turkish Restaurant, where you may recall I wrote about the delicious Baklava served there.  I had been there but Ann and Jake had not.  Anyway, here is a photo of our meals, and what a treat it was!  You can see the Greek salad on the lower left, which was for me, minus the huge chunks of feta cheese.  Ann and Jake split what was, for all intents and purposes, something akin to a cheese pizza.  You can see the basket of bread, which we all split, and the plate with chicken and several types of salads.  You can also see the small plate of Baklava, which was not warm, but was still pretty good.

Happy Victory Day

SAM_0827A few days ago we visited Memorial Park, where there are a number of monuments.  There was a monument for victims of political repression, if Google Translator is working correctly, and this monument to the dead from World War Two.  Today, May 9, is Victory Day in Russia, to commemorate the end of Hitler’s regime.  The Soviet Union lost upwards of 25 million people in that war, and perhaps as many as 20 million civilians died in the conflict.  Even several days before the holiday, you can see the flowers and offerings left on this monument.  In the background is a small chapel of the Russian Orthodox Church where people can go to pay their respects.  Today there is a parade through Ufa, and we are planning to go see it.  A few days ago there was a road relay race and bicycle race through our part of the city to celebrate Victory Day, and it was very strange to see the roads with no traffic on them.

The Things You Will See

SAM_0863I wrote that we were out and about the other day, and we walked to the plaza where the statue of Salavat Yulaev is located.  It was such a beautiful day that the plaza was pretty crowded with lots of school children on field trips and adults who came out to enjoy the weather.  Also present was the mascot of the Ufa professional hockey team and two cheer leaders who accompanied him.  I thought taking a picture of the mascot and cheerleaders through a fountain would make a cool picture.  Anyway,the mascot is a martin, which is a symbol of Ufa.  A martin is an animal that lives in the far north of North America, Europe, and Asia.  They are related to wolverines, mink, ferrets, badgers, and weasels.  He was a pretty big hit with the kids.

The Mall

SAM_0905Just a few blocks away from us is a modern mall.  It could be any mall in America, except the first floor is quite different.  The entire south wing of the mall is a giant grocery store, and most of this area is taken up with butcher shops and fish vendors.  I tried to be sneaky taking this photo, so this picture is not of the highest quality.  Right in the center of the photo you can see a rack with sides of beef hanging on it, and when we first walked into the building someone was hacking away at a side of beef with an ax.  Ufa has a large Muslim population, so pork is available, but it is not popular.  In other sections of this area are people selling eggs, honey, lamb, chicken, turkey, and probably other meats as well.  It is really pretty cool.  It is very clean, the operators are very nice, and now that Ann and Jake are back we will probably stop and buy a few packages for dinner.

Look at Them Now!

SAM_0854My duties at the university are over; I gave my last lectures and final exam last week.  So, we are enjoying the opportunity to walk around Ufa and see the sights.  The weather has been great the last few days, so we went for quite a long excursion yesterday.  In front of the university, the tulips are blooming.  The picture to the left is only about half of the flower garden; my camera just can’t handle all of the different colors over a long distance, and all photos turn out blurry.  But you get the idea.

Its hard to believe we are looking at just 2.5 weeks left in Russia, then its time to head off for another adventure.  Ann and Jake are going to hang out in London for a week, and I will be there for a few days.  While they stay in London I am heading off to a conference in Singapore called, “Unlearning Cold War Narratives.” There are literally scholars from all over the world participating, and I am very excited.SAM_0859

So, I’ve been thinking about what this journey has meant for me, personally.  I think that I have learned a tremendous amount about Russia, its people, and its culture, but the “take-away” is a little different.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in Russia, but I’ve missed home also.  And I’ve missed my family.  My older boys are looking to start their lives and soon they will not have too much time for me.  I need to embrace the time we have before they start their own families.  No job is perfect, but mine is pretty good at MN West.  When the Apollo 8 crew came back from orbiting the moon, they took a picture of the earth that sparked a growing interest in where we live.  The irony was that the crew went all the way to the moon before people took an interest in the earth. I guess I had to come all the way to Russia to appreciate home.

While we were out and about yesterday, I took quite a few photos of places that were covered with snow in January and February.  Look for a number of “Before and After” examples over the next few days, and the post below.

Before and After

My WalkI know I tend to focus on the natural beauty of Ufa, which includes birds singing and green grass growing, and the absence of snow.  Perhaps this might have something to do with walking 3 miles round trip each day through the Russian winter to get to the university, and more if I needed to go to the grocery store or meet someone at a restaurant.  This could be a case of “the wounds have healed, but the scars remain.”  Anyway, it is absolutely beautiful here in Ufa now.  Yesterday was 70 degrees, definitely t-shirt weatherSAM_0840.

As you can see, both of these photos were taken in about the same place, but several months apart.  It is a joy to be outside and it is nice just watching others enjoying the weather too.  We passed a man in a suit and tie yesterday, who had walked outside of his shop just to turn his face toward the sun and soak up some rays.  Exactly, brother.  I’m with you.

A Georgian Restaurant

SAM_0558This week I was able to eat at a Georgian restaurant with my family. They had all kinds of cool food there. They had things like burgers, salads, chicken, and much more. But they always had a spin on it, like how they cook it, what kind of sauce, or what it comes with. They even have a drink there made of GRASS!  See the green drink in the picture.  It tastes a lot better than it sounds. The tea is good too.  You can see it has chunks of fruit in it.  Overall it was a great place to eat and would love to see it in the US.

You are appreciated!

SAM_0816Ever feel like you are working hard but your boss doesn’t see it and never seems to express any appreciation for what you are doing?  Its the number one reason people leave their jobs.

But here in Ufa, there is a monument dedicated to the most overlooked profession in the city.  There is a monument dedicated to street sweepers.  And those people (men and women) earn their money too.  Much of the snow removal done throughout the winter is done by hand, and much of the street cleaning is also done by hand.  We expect our streets to be clean and free of snow, but how often do we thank the people responsible for making our lives easier?

I was browsing the internet to see what other cool sites there are in Ufa, and I came across this monument, and I knew I had to go see it.  So, I dragged Ann and Jacob along with me yesterday on a little excursion.  I almost missed it.  It is small, about the size of an actual man, but it is situated between several columns and in the middle of the sidewalk, so it is easy to overlook.  In my haste to find the monument, I thought several live people were the monument until they started moving.  I’m glad I didn’t start snapping pictures of them.  They would not appreciate that…

Pretty Creative

SAM_0813Russia has 140 holidays per year, but they can fall on Saturday and Sunday so it is a little different approach than we are used to.  (Many Russians are amazed to learn that America has only 10 federal holidays.)  Anyway, in conjunction with one of these Russian holidays, there is a celebration at the Square of Two Fountains.  (To see it, Ann sent a picture of the Square of Two Fountains to our communications folks who posted the photo on the MN West Facebook page.)  Every evening for about a week, bands sing in the square, there is food and drink, and there are lots of interesting sites in and around the square, like this one.  Someone is very creative, building these “anatomically correct” robots out of springs and cogs.  Hey, cool idea:  We could have the welding instructors and the art instructors team teach a class.

Student Cafeteria

SAM_0798I’ve finally gotten around to taking a picture of the cafeteria at the university, and you can see some simple differences between what Russian and American students eat.  First, tea is very popular with students, much more so, I think, than Coke or Pepsi.  American students want sandwiches, burgers, or pizza, while Russian students eat more of a pastry.  They are delicious though, with potato and meat inside, or a sausage.  Russians also eat more salads than Americans — like potato salad, Cole Slaw, etc.  The prices in Russia are much more reasonable as well.  A student could buy a pastry, a salad, and a tea for about $2.

Tiptoe, through the Tulips

SAM_0796As you can see, the tulips in front of the university have started to bloom in large numbers.  Not all of them, but you get the idea.  This is really pretty.  I think that I am much more cognizant of changes to the trees and flowers as I walk to work every day than I am normally.

Next, I asked Ann to bring the hair clippers with her when she came back to Russia, so I am no longer the cool guy with hair well below the ears.  Now I look more like a basic training recruit than a rock star.  Yes, with my flowing (grey) locks, I believe that women wanted to date me and guys wanted to be me.  🙂  Now, not so  much.  Actually, my middle son Joey — 20 years old — had all of his hair fall out over the last 2 months.  No idea why it happened, but I thought I would cut my hair in solidarity with him.

Happy Easter!

SAM_0783Sunday, May 1 is Easter here in Russia, according to the Russian Orthodox Church.  Anyway, pictured here is a traditional cake that is served for this holiday.  Perhaps you can see the church spires and crosses on the wrapping.


In fact, there are a number of holidays this time of year, from what I understand.  Victory Day from WWII, Labor Day, and Easter are right around now.  So there are a few days off over the next couple weeks.

What a Sight This Will Be

SAM_0770The flowers growing in front of the university are just starting to bloom.  You can see the red and white flowers, but there are a lot of flowers that have not made an appearance yet.  Once they do, the size of the flower garden is so big that this will be a tremendous sight.  Only a small portion of the garden has started to bloom, just the part that gets a lot of sun.  As I walk to the university each day, it seems that the leaves on the trees have grown out a little more, the grass is a little greener, and the flowers have bloomed out some more.   It is lovely this time of year in Russia!