Monday, December 13, 2010

Winterly life in Kaliningrad at sub-zero 6 degree celcius

This is me with heavy grocery plodding back to the dorm cautiously to avoid falling on the snow or sometimes ice.

I could still manage a beaming smile. But walking in the snow without my fur cap today is gross mistake. I could have easily gotten a cold.

Kaliningrad Technical State University celebrates 80th year anniversary. Little did I know that Mrs Vladimir Putin who was born here also studied here for two years.

Victory Square in snow, no matter how hurried our hearts, our steps must not be in haste. Snow piled up like this everyday, and we are at our own risk.

Business as usual, a shop selling children's clothes and shoes.

In public places, snow piles higher and higher. Business owners however clear their own path dutifully. It reminds me of the Chinese saying: clearing snow of your own home. How apt it is.

Winterly days with pangs of hunger, my young friend Haiying eyeing on bread from famous confectionery chain.

Kiosks like these are common sight on the streets. This is clear that it is selling bread with drawing of a bread with three-coloured flag symbol of Russia.

The famous good and evil bulls statue next to my university. Since 1910, authentically German.

She is from Harbin, much colder than Kaliningrad. She walks around without gloves and winter hat and draws lots of attention.

City view of Kaliningrad. Warning those who come here soon, prepare a good pair of shoes.

My view from the dormitory. Former KGB is nearby.
Russians celebrate Year of Rabbit like their own. Everywhere you see rabbit figurines! I no longer know if I am in China or Russia.

While I look forward to winter days and beautiful snowy scenery, little did I know it hits me quite badly. I feel fatigue easily today and this surprises me. I had a strong cup of tea in the morning, but I could doze off in minutes a couple of times in the afternoon! This is strictly not me. As it is known, the lack of sunlight will tire one easily, and now I have to accept that. I had too much in Singapore, I could try to achieve more with my growing fatigue.

At -6 degree celsius and with sufficient warm clothings, it was comfortably cold. I recalled when I was in Saint Petersburg at - 20, it was a big difference. I even felt a shortage of breath if I walk for too long. At this present temperature, it is rather alright.

As roads and pathways are piling with more snow and hardly being cleared away, walking from one place to another is quite a chore. This surprises my Chinese friends too. They said that snows are cleared to allow people to walk, unlike here. I could not draw comparison, but I do know that life during winter is at your own risk in Russia. I had a bad fall last year. I hope I will keep myself steady this year.

I decided to get one week's grocery and minimize the need to do multiple trips. I was surprised to see outdoor vendors who are still making a living on the streets, and a rare couple of beggars too. Snow gathered on their lashes and caps, but they stood still all the while, if not for sympathetic customers and good-hearted souls who are willing to part with their money. I wish I could picture them, but I did not have the heart to do that. Being out in the cold, and having a purpose demands some privacy and respect.

Tomorrow I still need to carry two bottles of mineral water from the nearest but not cheapest shop. Wish me luck!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Music and Politics in Russia

Famous actors and musicians gathered together for a charity concert in St. Peters

(English translation from Google, I did not write this.)

In St. Petersburg hosted a charity concert, all proceeds of which go to support critically ill children. Read poetry, sing or just to say warm important words come to Russia, many Western stars, many of them talked a few days in hospitals with sick children. But the main and most surprising number of the program was a speech by Vladimir Putin.

Such a star team on ice area of St. Petersburg came first. Alain Delon, Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Ornella Muti - they all came to the Northern capital to support children with cancer and ophthalmologic diseases. The day before they departed with gifts of the hospitals of the city, but all together for 2 hours together at a charity concert at the Ice Palace.

Tables for the guests placed in the middle of the ice arena, on top of which put wood flooring, but today in the hall was not cold. The atmosphere was cozy and even home-made warm.

Among the invited audience - wealthy businessmen and the best doctors - people who have their money and expertise can help sick children. This is because of them tried to star on stage.

Gerard Depardieu French read a poem Esenina "White Birch" and tried to repeat the Russian words for the young interpreter.

Kevin Costner's more accustomed to seeing as an actor, but he also sings and plays guitar. He even has its own band "Modern West", whose members in full force arrived in St. Petersburg.

Sharon Stone did not sing, but when world-renowned author Paul Anka sang written once named for Tom Jones' song "She` s lady ", came out and danced. Rare footage.

Vladimir Putin at a charity concert appeared in the hall, trying not to attract attention. But observant master of ceremonies did not miss the opportunity to approach the Prime Minister and persuaded him something to fulfill them.

Vladimir Putin: "We have a family atmosphere can experiment. I, like most people do not know how to sing or play, but I love to do it."

Head of Government, coming on the scene, went to the piano and played a few notes. And then, to the accompaniment of one of the world's most famous jazz musicians, Macy Parker, sung in English, a song by Louis Armstrong. Hall supported the prime minister and many have even tried to sing along.

Then Vladimir Putin returned to the piano to Online Time one of the tunes that our country is known to many from childhood.

Final song for the concert was ready to advance. All participants sang it in chorus.

Upon completion of a charity concert in support of Russia's struggle with childhood cancer and ophthalmologic diseases, the Prime Minister has invited world stars in the Russian Museum, where he conducted a tour for them.

Настоящее созвездие известных актеров и музыкантов собрал благотворительный концерт

В Санкт-Петербурге прошел благотворительный концерт, все вырученные средства от которого пойдут на поддержку тяжелобольных детей. Прочитать стихи, спеть или просто сказать теплые важные слова приехали в Россию многие западные звезды, многие из них несколько дней общались в больницах с больными детьми. Но главным и самым неожиданным номером программы стало выступление Владимира Путина.

Такая звездная команда на ледовую площадку Петербурга вышла впервые. Ален Делон, Моника Белуччи, Венсан Кассель, Голди Хоун, Курт Рассел, Орнелла Мути - все они приехали в Северную столицу, чтобы поддержать детей с онкологическими и офтальмологическими заболеваниями. Накануне они с подарками разъехались по больницам города, но все вместе на 2 часа собрались на благотворительном концерте в Ледовом дворце.

Столики для гостей разместили прямо посреди ледовой арены, сверху которой положили деревянный настил, но сегодня в зале не было холодно. Обстановка была уютной и даже по-домашнему теплой.

Среди приглашенных зрителей - состоятельные бизнесмены и лучшие врачи - люди, которые своими деньгами и знаниями могут помочь больным детям. Это ради них старались звезды на сцене.

Жерар Депардье на французском читал стихотворение Есенина "Белая березка" и пытался повторять русские слова за юным переводчиком.

Кевина Костнера больше привыкли видеть как актера, а он еще и поет и играет на гитаре. У него даже есть собственная группа "Модерн Вест", участники которой в полном составе приехали в Петербург.

Шэрон Стоун петь не стала, но когда всемирно известный автор Пол Анка исполнил написанную когда-то им для Тома Джонса песню "She`s lady", вышла и станцевала. Редкие кадры.

Владимир Путин на благотворительном концерте появился в зале, стараясь не привлекать внимания. Но наблюдательная ведущая вечера не упустила возможности подойти к премьер-министру и уговорила его что-нибудь исполнить.

Владимир Путин: "Мы в семейной обстановке можем экспериментировать. Я, как и большинство людей, не умею ни петь, ни играть, но люблю это делать".

Глава правительства, выйдя на сцену, направился к роялю и сыграл несколько нот. А затем, под аккомпанемент одного из самых известных в мире джаз-музыкантов, Мэйсио Паркера, спел на английском языке песню Луи Армстронга. Зал поддержал премьера и многие даже пытались подпевать.

Потом Владимир Путин вернулся к роялю, чтобы наиграть одну из мелодий, которую в нашей стране знают многие с детства.

Финальная песня для концерта была готова заранее. Все участники пели ее хором.

По завершении благотворительного концерта в поддержку деятельности России по борьбе с детскими онкологическими и офтальмологическими заболеваниями, премьер пригласил мировых звезд в Русский музей, где сам провел для них экскурсию.


Alright, alright, this is the second time Mr Putin is invited into the space of my blog. Among many foreign students here, some even said that he is their only idol in Russia. And I am quite close to that. I knew a student who studies ALL his speeches. I do study sometimes, and even recite them in front of the mirror, as if I am the Prime Minister.

Excuse me, respectable First Channel if I knowingly break the law by posting your news clips on my blog, as I find them too useful to be left alone, and reading them helps me enormously in learning the language. I admit that I do admire Mr Putin in some ways, at least the way he connects to people important and beneficial enough to Russia. And singing in public is not new in his collection of publicity stunts. And I admit I find singing the easiest way to link people. And he did it right.

In the eyes of the West, particularly through popular, if not influential Hollywood do-gooders, the icy-cold, spy-like and Maffia-related images of Russia will melt away, at least among the masses. Perhaps very soon, Russian language will be the hippest language on Rodeo Drive. And people start to appreciate the finesse and elegance of spirituality in Russian life.

Not long ago, when the spies were caught in the West and returned to Russia, it was reported in the wires that Mr Putin sang with Miss Chapman Russian songs during the gathering. I was told that singing together over a boiling samavor or vodka with an accordion at gatherings were traditionally their form of entertainment. Modern Russia has seemed to lose the tradition, I wish such tradition could live on. And Mr Putin is perhaps doing his little bit to keep it alive. And I wish I at least have a chance to sing like they used to do before I leave Russia for good.

If you like to see how he sings at one of the important dates in Russian calender, the Victory Day:

Or how he is made to sing with the President of Russia, Mr Medvedev:

Note: They recapped what took place in the previous year and wished the nation a Happy New Year. How I suffered from laughter from this clip, and how producers were able to push the boundaries to actually put this on air?! This even surprised BBC and carried a story about it. I guess the Almighty Duo of Russia with their keen sense of humour laughed over it at home. This softens their images. No disrespect was done to them.

I guess all politicians must remember that in their spheres of work, whatever authority and resources they could wield from the people and country, they are after all only human, and once in while, showing the human side of them, helps to bridge them with people. Or perhaps get closer to the goals they wish to achieve, provided it is beneficial to humanity.

And my destiny with Russian language also started with singing Russian songs. The beauty and the strength in the notes and words simply captivated me. Although I am not excessively endowed with a great voice, I do terrorize my dormitory mates by singing, humming, and whistling Russian tunes along the corridor, in the kitchen or more expressively in my very own room. The day I came back from Paris, I was again stationed more than usual in front of the attentive custom officer with a few questions. While waiting, I was helplessly humming again. He twitched his eye-brow slightly and as if trying to hide a smile, he said without expression: I heard you, yes I heard you. I didn't know what to say or react but simply pretended I did not understand a thing.

Whatever, I will keep singing.

I hope the politicians that most Russian people admire and respect today will never lose their bearings in politics, besides keeping us occasionally entertained by their performances, and the whole wide nation from Kaliningrad in the west to Kamchatka in the east will admire these earthly and remarkable duo with rationality and objectivity, and the gigantic country will move forward in tandem and closer with the world.

And I as a foreigner would be able to come back to Mother Russia to sing, to speak Russian and to search for my lost Russian soul.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Europe and Russia - marriage in the pipeline? (see English text at the end)

Путин: "Сближение России и Европы неизбежно"

Putin: Closer ties of Europe and Russia inevitable

Link to video :

Россия может быть полноценным индустриальным партнером Германии в сфере машиностроения, фармацевтике, производстве медицинской техники и стройматериалов, пищевой промышленности и других отраслях. Такое заявление сделал российский премьер-министр Владимир Путин на встрече с руководителями ведущих немецких компаний.

По словам главы российского правительства, в ближайшие месяцы будет упрощена разрешительная процедура на покупку иностранцами акций в стратегических секторах российской экономики. Владимир Путин не исключил и образования единой валютной зоны со странами ЕС.

Завершилась встреча Владимира Путина с канцлером Германии Ангелой Меркель.

Важной темой этого дня в Германии стало вступление России в ВТО. Владимир Путин об этом разговаривал с представителями немецких деловых кругов, и председатель российского правительства не исключил, что Россия присоединится к ВТО в следующем году.

Владимир Путин: "Мы считаем, что свой путь мы почти прошли, в практическом плане все основные вопросы с Евросоюзом мы согласовали".

Также сегодня Владимир Путин встретился с канцлером Германии Ангелой Меркель. Вместе они обсуждали возможности экономического развития. Оба сошлись на мысли, что одним из условий успешного экономического развития является отмена виз между Россией и Евросоюзом.

Владимир Путин: "Российский подход к этой проблематике хорошо известен. Мы выступаем за максимальное упрощение визовых процедур в наших отношениях с европейскими партнерами, и неоднократно заявляли о готовности перейти к безвизовому режиму.

Сегодня в ходе дискуссии с представителями немецкого бизнеса, руководитель ЕАДС неожиданно мне сказал: "Надо бы как-то упростить визовый режим". Я говорю: "А вы-то от чего страдаете? Он ответил: "Мы создали целые группы, инженерные коллективы. Мы их должны оперативно перебрасывать из одной страны в другую. Много проблем - это мешает работе". "Я думаю, что все, что мешает развитию экономики, должно быть устранено".

Ангела Меркель: "В ходе последнего визита Президента Медведева в Германию мы договорились о создании "дорожной карты", в которой наметим план действия по постепенному переходу к безвизовому режиму. Конечно, мы не решим этот вопрос за один день, но будем продвигаться к этому шаг за шагом".

В первой половине дня Владимир Путин принял участие в работе экономического форума, он организован газетой "Зюддойче цайтунг".

Россия заинтересована в европейских инвестициях и технологиях, заявил Владимир Путин. Ей есть, что предложить. Экономика восстанавливается после кризиса. В этом году она подрастет примерно на 4%.

Владимир Путин: "ВВП России составляет сегодня свыше триллиона евро, и ежегодно, что еще важнее, ежегодно прирастает на 50-70 миллиардов евро. Правительство России последовательно реализует планы модернизации экономики и создание благоприятной бизнес-среды".

Российский бизнес также готов инвестировать в европейские компании, но подчас бизнесмены натыкаются на препятствия. На европейские рынки их просто не пускают. Примеров этому масса.

Владимир Путин: "Давайте вспомним шумную историю с "Оппелем". Разве этому концерну стало лучше после того, как уже практически согласованная сделка была сорвана. Мне кажется, нет, ничего к лучшему там принципиально не изменилось. Другая наша частная компания "Ренова" приобрела высокотехнологичное производство в Швейцарии по производству солнечных панелей. Но по судам затаскали, но сейчас вроде урегулировали, слава Богу, но так невозможно работать".

Путин негативно оценил и так называемый европейский "Третий энергетический пакет", пакет документов, запрещающих продавцам газа и электроэнергии владеть транспортными сетями, он одобрен Еврокомиссией в прошлом году.

Владимир Путин: "Вот построили инвесторы российские и немецкие трубопроводные системы для подачи газа конечному потребителю в самой Федеративной республике, но сейчас им отказывают в том, чтобы они имели право на эту перекачку. Послушайте, но компании вложили сотни миллионов долларов и евро в этот проект, и все было нормально, все по правилам. Теперь задним числом принимают другое решение и отказывают им в использовании собственного имущества. Что, подзабыли у нас наши коллеги какие-то элементарные, основополагающие принципы? Один из них называется - закон обратной силы не имеет".

Россия настроена на сближение с Европой, именно этому посвящена статья Владимира Путина в газете "Зюддойче цайтунг", опубликованная накануне, в ней российский премьер предлагает создание общей экономики большой, не ограниченной Евросоюзом.

Единая экономика от Лиссабона до Владивостока - невозможно? Владимир Путин привел пример из истории Германии. Решение канцлера ФРГ Гельмута Коля, который объединил две части Германии, невзирая на то, какие различия тогда были между ГДР и ФРГ.

Путь предстоит длинный и сложный. Вступление России в ВТО, столько раз откладываемое, создание единого европейского энергетического комплекса, отмена визового режима. Владимир Путин в перспективе даже не исключает создание общей российской европейской валюты.

Владимир Путин: "Я не знаю, какие формы должна приобрести наша кооперация, в каких формах мы будем сближаться друг с другом. Будет это общий рынок свободный, будет это наше ассоциированное членство в Евросоюзе. Но сближение России и Европы, если мы хотим сохраниться как цивилизация, хотим быть успешными и конкурентоспособными, сближение России и Европы неизбежно".

Во время общения зашла речь и о внутренней политической жизни Германии, об усилении позиции "зеленых", и их желания перевести страну на использование возобновляемых экологически чистых источников энергии.

Владимир Путин: "Я не понимаю, чем вы будете топить, газа не хотите, атомную энергетику не развиваете, а что, вы будете дровами топить? За дровами тоже в Сибирь надо ехать, понимаете? У вас же и дров тоже нет".

Этот комментарий зал встретил смехом. По совпадению, именно сегодня в Берлине выпал первый снег.


While I am not going to translate the full video into English, I would like to share my thoughts about it. Reading news on Russian mass media is my all-time favourite way of studying Russian language. Unfortunately my time left in Russia is too short to purchase a TV, hence reading it online becomes my lifeline for knowledge. You can find news from their First Channel : If you are fanatical like me about Russian news but not able to understand it, try using google translator will help you to grasp the essence of it. However, such direct translation has its flaws, if not many.

In this story on Friday, Russian Prime Minister Putin met with his German counterpart, Chancellor Angel Merkel in Berlin and painted a picture of closer ties with Europe. He calls on EC to create a common economic space. Many issues were raised.

He told an annual economic forum of German corporate managers organized by Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, "If we want to survive and maintain a competitive edge, closer ties between Russia and Europe are inevitable."

Putin said he came to this conclusion for the first time after hearing remarks made by former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during a meeting with former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak at the beginning of the 1990s.

According to Putin, Kohl spoke sincerely and convincingly of the urgency of closer ties between Russia and Europe.

"For me, a person who used to work in Russia's foreign intelligence during the Soviet era, this conversation, which I witnessed and partially translated, completely changed my views on this issue," Putin said.

He outlined his vision of a future Europe, including creation of an economic community from Lisbon to Vladivostok, including a free trade zone and "progressive types of economic integration," in an article published by Suddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday.

He also insisted on the idea of a joint energy sector as an ideal solution to future energy demands. At the end of the forum, with his typical wit and merciless humour, he underlined the dependency of EC on Russia.

Directed to Germany or perhaps to EU in general, he said, " I do not understand, what you will heat with, you do not want gas, you are not developing atomic engineering, and what, you will heat with fire wood? In order to get fire wood, you need to go to Siberia. Do you understand? You do not even have fire wood. ".

The hall was thunderous with laughter and maybe the Germans were actually painfully resisting it.There are many reasons to love ad not to love Putin. His brutality in delivering humour and underlining the truth or even threat at the same time, is one of them to either love him or hate him. It is Russia's call and reminder of who needs who more when winter comes. And it happens that Berlin had its first snow when his words were sounded.

Coincidentally, Kaliningrad welcomed the first snow today on 26 November, 11 days later than last year when I first arrived.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hello Perestroika!

Haiying is our newest dorm mate. My role is that of inspection and quality control of the perestroika of her room.

We have experienced friends with skillful hands to undertake the work. Now, this is the freely-distributed wallpapers!
Being considerate and well-liked, she could hang around and let others willingly do the work for her. That's our unconditional camaraderie in the dormitory.

These are not renovators. They are our good friends from Nepal and Blangadesh. They are studying Russian too.
My guest appearance was meant to lend moral support...and add one more fun picture to my memory.

I cannot seem to stop writing about our perestroika in the dormitory. Since the day I completed my renovation, the end result seems too irresistible. And right after that, we have Shafiq from Kabul who completed his with help from his brother. Two months later, Sazhad made his attempt after living there for 1 and a half years. Now it is Haiying from China who did her's with help from Narendra and Zamil. With the work going on the corridor, even Russian students were curious.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Giving a talk in Russian

In School No. 47, an elementary school.

Vanessa's father is a Chinese. She is happy to learn some Chinese words.

My education in Chinese started from this word : ren! (people) . Most important thing in life is actually back to basics, how to be a good person and live well.

Explaining in Russian the essencee of Chinese words and the basic structure of the language. I need to practise more to be more confident.

I felt like a star. Thank you, all students.

My teacher was there to assist me in times of need.

Last week, I gave a short presentation in Russian to 30 Russian students in my university. They are students of my Head of Russian Language Department Mdm Larisa Nikolaievna. University students from year one till they graduate need to take Russian language lesson, this speaks volume how difficult this language is. I was initially quite nervous, but when I saw their friendly faces, I relaxed and be myself.

My teacher Irina Sergeevna spent 2 hours with me to rehearse how to speak and helped me with mistakes I made along the way. She said it does not matter if I do, most importantly it is the platform to speak the language. She even invite me to speak to school children about Chinese language. I would love to!

I was happy that the students responded warmly and rushed to answer my questions. It was really fun. And they asked many questions and I responded accordingly. I am very proud to be a Chinese, and I would help anybody to appreciate its beauty.

I said President Medvedev recently visited China and suggested that people of two countries should learn each other's language. I said I am doing my bit to help him to fulfill his wishes. Hopefully I would plant the seed of interest in our Russian students' minds, and maybe there will be one more student learning Chinese!

Today I was invited to speak in a primary school for students of the fourth standard. I realised I had to speak in a much different way when speaking to adults. It was still challenging. The students were very responsive and very interested in Chinese characters. They wrote everything they heard and saw on the white board attentively.

During the break, they all gathered around me and asked for my autograph, and some even asked me to write their names in Chinese. We have Masha, Dasha, Daniel and Alexis. Lovely students!

They also asked many questions. One asked me what is the staple food of Chinese. Another was interested to find out where exactly is Singapore. I also invited them to come to the white board to write the Chinese words, following the strict order of Chinese writing. They were thrilled, all raised their hands!

My teacher told them that my initial intention in learning Russian was to sing Russian songs, and next thing to happen was that I was already singing to them in Russian, "Katchusha". And I was glad that they all know the lyrics and we sang together!! And I also sang a children's song in Chinese, "当我们同在一起". They applauded warmly. Some were busy taking pictures of me.

Thanks to their teacher, Tamara Vitorevna for taking all these pictures today. One beautiful boy even came to me and meekly said, please come again and walked away. The other teachers spoke to my teacher and would like me to come again. Well I would be glad to do so.

Eid Mubarak Celebration in Kaliningrad

What we know as Korban in Singapore and Malaysia, is called Eid Mubarak Celebration here.

Happy mood when our friend, Shafiq from Kabul joked around.

Great cooks - Narendra and Faruk.

Chef of the day. Nasir. Actually he is only one of them.

Celebration in full swing.

Amir, a beautiful baby from a Blangadesh-Russian mix-marriage.

Syrian brothers, with Blangadesh in the middle. "Не это плохо! "

Some can act cool and silly at the same time. From Kabul again.

Some can smile any time at the camera. The four Chinese students from Dorm 1.

International representation from China, Singapore, Russia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Blangadesh and Syria.

A happily newly married couple from Northeastern China. The one in yellow is our newest member in the dorm.

Heavenly delicious lamb dish from Nasir, the greatest chef among all. He is from Blangadesh.

Chicken dish and rice.

Our teacher, Irina Sergevna.

In full anticipation of the celebration!

Contribution from Chinese, including me, Russian-style salad.

Our favourite teacher again!

Willing helpers.

Deep fried chicken.

Homemade chapati.

Tables are set to welcome guests.

Eid Mubarak is an important celebration for our Muslim brothers and sisters. They live in the same dormitory with us. They are from Blangadesh, Syria and Afghanistan. Their invited guests include one Singaporean, four Chinese, three Russians and etc.

We don't often have such major celebrations like this, of this scale, of this level of participation from friends near and far. It was thrown jointly by Narendra, Nasir, Jumil, Sajjad and Faruk. They were the main cooks. And we Chinese contributed salads and fruits. It was a joyful time. As we live in the dormitory, we had to gather cutlery and chairs and whatever useful from all the rooms to present a great party.

It was simply superb! Thank you all.