Monday, June 14, 2010

Goodbye Kaliningrad!!

Accordian musicians are seen here, music fills the air.

The Victory Square and Kaliningrad State Technical University in heart of city.

Fountain season already started in May!

One of the many parks in the city, one of my favourite - Youth Park.

A very green city, trees are meticulously planted. And I know at

My quiet corner to reflect on deeper meaning of life...

This city turned 750 years old in 2006, dated back in East Prussian days.

Cultural life in Kaliningrad - a showcase of performances.

Summer time Kaliningrad is lovely, people barely stay at home.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Childhood Russia

My little friend in Kaliningrad, her name is Vavara, Russian version of Barbara.

Vavara is three year-old and six months, born in Kaliningrad to a botanist mother and seaman father. A very expressive child, she corrected how I pronounced "frog" in Russian. Knowing how to spell is not enough, you need to know exactly which vowel to stress on. My accidental teacher.
When she is in a happy mood, she sings non-stop in the park. A walking doll.
Running in the park, singing, sometimes crying...mood swings.
I met her three weeks ago for the first time. She remembered me today and ran fast towards me to lock me with a big hug at the university corridor. How happy I was!
Her mood suddenly changed, and she refused to look at the camera.
Hand-held by her grandma, Albina, she was grinning two mintues ago before she became grouchy.
Vavara's grandmother is an editor in my university. She babysits her half-day as her computer is down. It is obvious, I am yellow, she is white.

Fluff from trees whitened the quiet pond.
I met Vavara's grandmother in our Victory Day's celebration at the university. She could sing almost all Soviet era songs, I visit her from time to time at her office. Very often, we have tea and light meals at her office. And of course - we sing! Sometimes she would bring her youngest granddaughter with her to the university when the workload is not so heavy. On a normal working day, she attends events and publish newsletter for the university.

Three weeks ago, we went to the Botanic Garden of Kaliningrad where her daughter Svetlana works. Sveta and her husband Sergey have three children, Masha, Toma and Varya. Typical Russian family, parents married at early twenties, and before 40 years of age, their eldest child is already a teenager. The family spends time in their garden during weekends, play harmonica at home, and visit grandparents.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lily of the Valley- Return of Happiness

Lily of the Valley also means Return of Happiness in the" language of flowers" .

Finding Lily of the Valley in the Botanical Gardens in Kaliningrad.

Holding a bouquet or two of lily of the valley is a common sight on Russian streets in May day. Before long it will disappear from the streets as soon as summer sets in. Goodbye! :(

Street peddlars or more accurately old people or pensioneers sell them in little bouquet like this, it is delicately soaked in water before the frangrance is passed on to buyers.
In Christian legend, it is also known as Our Lady's Tears.
Delicate and fragrant, I cannot take my eyes off them.

Russians wrote mang songs about all kinds of flowers, and flowers symbolise many good values, particularly in the language of love. I heard the Russian song about lily of the valley or sounded "Landishi"(Ландыши) in Russian a long time, it was great that I finally saw them in the woods and also on the streets. In Chinese, it is called "Ling-lan" (铃兰 ), which means bell-like lilies. They do really look like shy little belles hanging tightly together.
The little bouquet costs about SGD 1.50, and the fragrance lasted for days. They bloom only in May days, when summer sets in, they disappeared entirely, and new flowers of summer are pressent now. In the month of May, it is also the season of fountains, and many flowers started to bloom, and are sold everywhere on the streets. Russians are intimately linked to flowers, and in the month of May, it couldn't be more evident. They would buy the lilies and hold them with care and bring them home.
A little more about this wonderful flower:
This woodland plant is native throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere in Asia and Europe and a limited native population in Eastern USA. They are popular as garden, grown for its scented flowers and for its ground-covering abilities in shady locations.
The flower is also known as Our Lady's tears, since, according to Christian legend, the lily of the valley came into being from Eve's tears after she was driven with Adam from the Garden of Eden, although this seems unlikely, since in Catholic parlance, "Our Lady" refers to the Virgin Mary. It is a symbol of humility in religious painting. Lily of the valley is considered the sign of Christ's second coming. The power of men to envision a better world was also attributed to the lily of the valley.

Other names include May lily, May bells, lily constancy, ladder-to-heaven, male lily, and muguet (French). In the "language of flowers", the lily of the valley signifies the return of happiness. Legend tells of the affection of a lily of the valley for a nightingale that did not come back to the woods until the flower bloomed in May.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Jazzy Pasta with Russian Sa-lemon (Salmon + Lemon)

A trace of my amateurish cooking, the green pepper is slightly burnt. Try to avoid it.

Colour of vegetables gives life to the dish, you could choose any colours you like, in Russia, I also see yellow and orange peppers. But I like the taste of the green and red.

I am not fond of salmon, as we are spoilt for choice for all kind of fish in South-east Asia. My accidental encounter with salmon happened a few months ago when I bought salmon from the supermarket for my first, if not the last, lonesome Chinese New Year in Russia. A rare occasion as it is not exactly the cheapest goods on the shelves. Fish in Chinese language sounds similar to "abundance", and having fish during festive season is believed to bring good luck.

I happily prepared the salmon, marinated it with salt and fried it. The slices of salmon when fried fell into pieces and to my dismay, I thought I tasted salted fish instead of salmon. I realised the salmon was already marinated when I bought it, and more salt only make it absolutely inedible, even with lemon juice and rice. To seek help, I turned to my fridge, opened the door and searched for solution. And yes, I saw a new packet of pasta, two red and green peppers, I knew that was the answer. That was how my version of "Jazzy Pasta with Russian salmon and Lemon" came into being.

I cooked it again yesterday at my friends' dormitory and they loved it. I had so much pasta that I only had one meal yesterday. Earlier on, we had Salmon fishhead soup from yesterday's meal with typical Russian brown bread at 11am, and the pasta was ready at 4 pm. We also cooked Bak Kut Teh with the A1 spice bag, with pork ribs and beef. We became too heavy to move after the meal...

Now I share my simple recipe for "Jazzy Pasta with Russian Sa-lemon". Any salmon is good, not neccessarily Russian.

All you need:
Pasta (of any kind, of any quantity!)
Salmon (as much as you want!)
Red and Green peppers, one each
Freshly grounded black pepper

What do you do:
1. Boil the pasta with droplets of olive oil and pinch of salt till al dente. Rinse them in cold water.
2. Cut the red and green peppers into thin slices.
3. Cut salmon into thin slices.
4.Fry red and green peppers together. Leave aside.
5. Fry the salmon till fragrant, a little golden brown is good.
6. Mix pasta with fried green/red peppers and salmon together over gentle fire. If you have a good wok or a sufficiently big frying pan, give them a good , high-high-up-in-the-air toss!
7. Add salt and grounded fresh black pepper.
8. One minute before you switch off the fire, add lemon juice to the pasta and toss it.
9. Do not throw away the squeezed lemon, cut it into small pieces and add into pasta. Pulps of lemon will jazz up the flavour of the pasta. If you like it, you could add freshly cut lemon into it.
10. Hope you like my recipe! Goodbye!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Celebrating Pushkin's Birthday (June 6)

And my heart beats in ecstasy.

Russian poetry is part of learning Russian language, or more precisely that of Pushkin's. I learned my second poem in the class yesterday. A love poem with pure emotions. My new teacher Irina Sergeevna worships Pushkin, she highlighted to us that tomorrow is his birthday and significance of his works in Russian people. When she recited his poem, it was like music, we were taught to recite with her.

I cannot write enough how important and intimate Russians associate themselves with their language. I think they are the only people in the world who would toast for their "GREAT AND ALMIGHTY RUSSIAN LANGUAGE" (За великий и могучий русский язык!!! )while in parties or gatherings, while people like us would simply toast for good health, good luck...mundane and personal wishes.. Young children are taught since young to speak correctly, to possess spontaneous usage of the complex language, and naturally know the infinite changes of endings of words when used in different structures.

I wish Singaporean Chinese, or Chinese for that matter, have at least some decent sense of pride in their own languge -- to understand the beauty of the language, to read, to speak, or maybe to write correctly.

Born in 1799, Pushkin is the founder of modern Russian literature and one of the greatest poets in Russian Literature, if not in the world. He brought literature out from the privileged and the rich, and reached the hearts and souls of ordinary people. He pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling—associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers.

In English Translation:
I remember a wonderful moment

I remember a wonderful moment:
You appeared before me,
Like a fleeting vision,
As pure beauty.

In the torture of hopeless melancholy,
The anxieties of a noisy fuss
I heard your gentle voice
I dreamed of that lovely face.

Years passed. Storms' s blast
Scattered dreams,
And I forgot your tender voice,
Your heavenly features.

In the wilds, in gloomy
My days dragged quietly
No god, no inspiration,
No tears, no life without love.

My soul awakened:
And again you appeared,
Like a fleeting vision,
As pure beauty.

And my heart beats in ecstasy
And it once again
And the deity, and inspiration,
And life, and tears, and love

-- Pushkin

Poem in Russian.
(* to listen how it sounds in Russian, I suggest this clip which features a comical couple who dramatised the emotions of the poem. Poetry in Russia is for ordinary people, for ordinary life.)
Я помню чудное мгновенье:
Передо мной явилась ты,
Как мимолетное виденье,
Как гений чистой красоты.
В томленьях грусти безнадежной,
В тревогах шумной суеты,
Звучал мне долго голос нежный
И снились милые черты.
Шли годы. Бурь порыв мятежный
Рассеял прежние мечты,
И я забыл твой голос нежный,
Твои небесные черты.
В глуши, во мраке заточенья
Тянулись тихо дни мои
Без божества, без вдохновенья,
Без слез, без жизни, без любви.
Душе настало пробужденье:
И вот опять явилась ты,
Как мимолетное виденье,
Как гений чистой красоты.
И сердце бьется в упоенье,
И для него воскресли вновь
И божество, и вдохновенье,
И жизнь, и слезы, и любовь.