Generosity of the Russian people

The following story is told by Christina Therrien, a student at the Russian-Amercian Journalism Institute in Rostov, Russia. 

Christina’s story:

The generosity of the Russian people never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday, after ten days, fifteen attempts and three failed phone cards, I stood crying at the pay phone. It was impossible. The directions? Russian. The automated speaker chirping away in my ear? Russian. It seemed that every time I managed to take a step forward, I went flying six steps back.

I had left my dorm armed with instructions on the right phone card, the right phone to use it at, and what I thought were the right directions on how to use it. But after spending two hundred and eighty rubles on the card and a half an hour punching numbers, I felt like the Russian voice was really just telling me to give it up.

All of the sudden a babushka was standing next to me, talking a mile a minute. Despite making it clear that I spoke no Russian, she kept talking and gesturing wildly with her hands. Finally, she took the card from me and started pushing numbers into the phone while I searched frantically for my Russian phrasebook.

When even she couldn’t get the call to go through, she turned around and, seeing a young man walking by on his cell phone, called out to him and hauled him over to help. To my astonishment, he hung up the phone and came over. I couldn’t believe my New York eyes. That anyone would ever do that in the States was unthinkable. But he came over, cool as you please, and patiently listened as the babushka explained the situation.

When neither of them could figure it out, they took me down the street, arm in arm, to another kiosk for yet another card. At the new phone booth, all three of us squeezed into the closet sized space, passing the receiver among us. I watched the minutes from the card drain away with no success, thinking quietly to myself that if this endeavor were to continue, I would have to change another hundred dollars.

telephone booth
A thick plastic phone card must be inserted, and left in, for the duration of the call.

When it became clear that this card was no better, we emptied out of the booth and went on our merry way. Not having any idea of where we were or where we were going, I began to get concerned. I asked the boy where we were going and he answered, in broken English, “We go to find someone who knows the card.” I convinced myself that if worst came to worst, I could always jump in a taxi, and so, off we went, on the eternal quest of a transatlantic call.

At this point, the Russians had been wandering around with me for well over an hour. Assuming that they had been on their way somewhere before they ran into me, I tried to make them understand that it was okay, that I would figure it out. The babushka looked at me like I was crazy and waving her hands, cried “Nyet! Nyet!” Startled, I shut up.

Finally, finally, we turned the corner and there, like a mirage, was Phone Card Heaven. Banks and banks of phone booths awaited me, along with people who knew how to use them. I breathed a sigh of relief and, looking at my surroundings, realized I was exactly two blocks from the restaurant where I’d had dinner the night before.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I climbed again into the booth with my companions and a well-informed phone employee. After a nerve-racking 75 seconds, I heard the joyous sound of a ringing phone. Russia had finally gotten through.

After the initial excitement of reaching my mother, I realized that my Russian saviors were still standing outside the booth. Startled, I put the phone down and went out to them, thanking them effusively. Still, they made no move to leave. I scratched my head; didn’t they want to go? They’d spent the better part of two hours traipsing around town with me when I was sure they had things to do.

Was there a custom I was ignoring? Should I take them to dinner? Buy them a beer? As I was pantomiming that I thought they had places to be, they began to understand and the boy began to translate for the shouting babushka: “But you don’t know where you are! How will you get home?”

Astonished, I thanked them and told them I could find my way. They looked relieved and left together, happily conversing in Russian. I couldn’t believe it. After hours of patience, after all they had done for me, they were still going to take the time to bring me home. Imagine that.

kyiv girls old
Babushka is a generic term for "grandmother"

10 Ruble Note to Phase Out

Word from the Central Bank is that Russia will stop printing the 10 ruble note next year because it will be replaced with a coin, as reported by Interfax. The bills will remain legal tender.

Ruble 10 front

The front of the 10 note Ruble features the famous bridge across the Yenisei River in Krasnoyarsk. The Yenisei is the fifth longest river in the world and flows into the Artic Ocean.

Ruble 10 back

The back of the Ruble 10 note showcases the Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric dam on the Yenisei River.


вал-март (Vahl-Mart)

So, is Wal-Mart really coming to Russia? Since the announcement in late 2008 not much has been heard.

Inquiring minds want to know. We’re sitting here practing how to say it in Russian. As the Russian Cyrillic doesn’t have a W like in English, the closest we can get is the “V” sound which looks like this: B.

We know, that is a “bee” in English. Yes, Russian does have a “beh” (but its not sounded like a “bee”) but this, B, is not it.

So, until Vahl-Mart makes up their minds, we’re here waiting.

вал-март = Wal-Mart. That is as close as we can get.

Tribute to Russia’s “Sinatra”

Sunday Russians will remember Muslim Magomayev, the “Soviet Frank Sinatra” with a concert to mark the one-year anniversary of his death. Magomayev is regarded as one of the most popular singers in modern Russian history.

The list of talented singers include Iosif Kobzon, Dima Bilan and Igor Butman and others who will pay tribute to Magomayev. Just as Magomayev was so talented across musical boundaries, the concert will feature a variety of music as varied as the Soviet superstar, with styles ranging from pop to classical. 

Born in Baku, the capital of former Soviet republic Azerbaijan, Magomayev came from an artistic family and studied at the region’s music conservatory. But it was a performance at a youth festival in Helsinki at the age of 19, and another a year later at the Kremlin in 1962, that made him famous. He became a favorite among the Kremlin elite under Khrushchev, Brezhnev  and Andropov, and his unique baritone was admired by several generations of listeners.

Over the years his popularity grew and Magomayev concerts filled stadiums and he sold millions of records. For many, he was a pop star, but Magomayev had a huge repertoire and could sing opera and jazz, as well as traditional Russian songs.

Winning official approval so early in his career meant that unlike most Soviet citizens, he was able to travel and work abroad. He went to study in Italy at the La Scala opera house in Milan and then at the Olympia Theater in Paris before returning to Moscow. According to one story, he was called back because those in the Kremlin missed hearing him sing.

If you miss Sunday’s event, another tribute concert, “There is No Song Without You,” will take place at the Moscow International House of Music on Nov. 1.  The concert, featuring the group Tenors of the XXI Century, is dedicated to Magomayev and Armenian composer Arno Babadzhanyan. The duo who had almost 50 hit songs together.

Hats off to a true giant. He, like his American friend Sinatra, did it “My Way.”

Biden in Romania; assures former Soviet Republics

(Washington Times/Romania) Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. delivered a major foreign policy speech to university students here Thursday reaffirming the Obama administration’s commitment to a durable NATO alliance and rejecting the notion of a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

The speech was in part intended to counter concerns here over recent overtures President Obama has made to Russia, an outreach effort that has been viewed with some suspicion in countries that bore the brunt of Soviet rule.

Aides said Mr. Biden picked Romania for the speech in part because the country suffered so severely under its Communist dictatorship, and yet has seen democracy flourish during the two decades that followed the fall of the Iron Curtain. In fact, the visit coincided with a recent vote of no confidence of the government in Romania’s parliament, forcing Mr. Biden to squeeze in meetings both with the caretaker government and with opposition leaders during his brief visit.

The vice president made reference to the flurry of campaign activity during after a visit with the Romanian President Traian Basescu. Noting the plans for a Romanian election to be held next month, the vice president said he wished American campaigns could be concluded so quickly.

The four-day swing through Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic comes during what administration officials see as a period of transition for NATO. Mr. Biden described the Eastern European members as countries that once needed to lean on the U.S. for both military and economic support, but have matured into “full partners.”

Russia is still in the Red

Russia Today television has confirmed what most good folks have known all along: Russia is still running a budget deficit.

Russia remains in the “Red Zone” and we’re not talking about American football. In this case the “red zone” is a continuing ecomony that forces the government to spend more than it makes.

Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, renewed his pledge to move the economy from energy reliance in just over a decade and emphasized that moves to address the economic downturn should limit Russia’s long term plans.

Speaking about the more immediate economic concerns, the Russian president indicated the economic downturn in the wake of the global credit crunch had hit harder than expected and that this in turn had pounded the Russian currency – the Rouble – and meant that the country is now heading for budget deficit.

But he indicated that the economy would begin to turn, and that the Rouble had already stabilized. He also said that a budget deficit would be serviceable and that he was looking to reign it in as soon as possible.

Ah, Dmitry, government leaders all over the world mouth the same words…but it is usually worthless drivel. With an economy that totally relies on energy, in a world economy where energy prices have been driven down, don’t just tell everyone that you have a plan.

Stooges like America’s junior Senator Obama talk a lot without a plan too. From you my friend, we’d like to actually hear the plan.

That would make you far different from the rest of the G20 clowns around the globe.

Gorbachev calls elections a sham!

Gorbachev 1So what has caused Mr Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, and one who has shown amazing admiration for the current rule of President-turned-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, to call the latest election results a sham?

Russia’s “Novaya Gazeta” newspaper has published an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev who believes that the October 11 local elections, which were so predictably won by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party amid wide-spread claims of vote tampering, have damaged trust in the country’s political institutions.

Mr Gorbachev was quoted as saying, “this is a complete failure of political strategists, who were guided by the utterly worthless principle that ‘it doesn’t matter how the people vote; what matters is how we count.’ In everyone’s eyes, the elections turned into a mockery of the people and showed a deep disrespect for their voices. The party of power gained the result it needed by discrediting political institutions and the very party itself.

Those are blunt words and Mr Gorbachev is the second high-profile person to attack the election results. Immediately following the count three parties, the ultranationalist Liberal Democrats (LDPR), the Communists, and A Just Russia walked out of the State Duma (parliment).