Thursday, August 28, 2008

Living in the Land of Piracy

I'm sitting here at an internet cafe in north Kiev and I'm a little steamed. Here in my bag is a copy of Adobe Premier CS3, a $200 program for editing digital video. And I got it for 50 grevna, make that $11 or so. Give you two guesses about how I got it for so cheap.

I've been trying for months to get Adobe Premier. Annoyed that I left the States last spring with a new video camera but no Adobe software for editing. Another story entirely.

Next step to the Adobe site to purchase and download on line. No go even after numerous phone calls to Adobe and such. Have to get a real copy mailed from Moscow, was the bottom line.

Thought surely available locally in Rostov. Sergey SuperComputer Whiz who has been able to solve any computer problem I've managed to come up with (including a big saucepan falling off a top shelf, landing on my computer and cracking the motherboard - a feat not easily done but it is related to dragging the laptop into the kitchen to listen to programs in there. Trust me on this story.) could find me a copy. He said he could. He said he would. Oh but alas, in the end Sergey said no such program in Rostov, have to order it from . . . Moscow. He had lots of plans for getting that done. Alas, super hero is only human. Disappointed, of course, I am.

Left Rostov 2 wks ago, with no Adobe Premier software. Decided, hey - Kiev's a big city. Let's get it there. So here I am. Have checked several major computer retailers and. . . so far, no finding much licensed software at all. I'm starting to understand what brother Andrey was telling me last week, it's basically impossible to find licensed software here. . .

I asked the guy at the market, do you not have a licensed copy?

No. And that would cost you $1,000 anyway.

That's odd, I thought. According to the Adobe website, the price for Adobe Premier (home version) is around $200; the pro version is around $1,000 as I recall. So might be good to get your facts straight, Mr Pirate, I thought.

So, guess next time I'm in the US, or have a reliable way of getting a copy transported from there to here, I'll ge myself a real copy of Adobe Premier. In the meantime, I've got this flimsy copy for a song. And of course no documentation, printed instructions. Mr Pirate promised that there were no viruses and stuff on the disk. But I wonder. After all, if he can't keep the story straight about the cost of the licensed version, can he be trusted that no malicious virus-y stuff has been added for free too?

So does all this make me a pirate?

How about you dear blog readers. Your experiences with real, live pirates. No worries of course. It's just between the two of us here. And anybody else who happens along. =)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ukraine: Gotta Love It

Yesterday, August 24th, was Independance Day in Ukraine so lots of folks have today off work. You might wonder from whom Ukraine is celebrating its independance. From the USSR, of course, and that happened in 1991 when the USSR was dissolving.

A dear brother at church, Volera, was telling me about the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia sees Ukraine as its younger brother, he said. Except that now the younger brother is grown up and likes to think for itself.

That's an interesting perspective and a good analogy. Especially appropriate with Ukraine's bid to join NATO.

Politics aside, care to join me for a look at some of the patriotic promotions around town? These are posted in near our bus stop.

Ukraine and sunflowers. Have you ever driven through fields and fields of sunflowers? Well, I've been on trains that have gone through such fields here and it's quite a sight. Anyway, let's zoom up for a closer view.

This says, Love Ukraine! (The Ukrainian language is based on Russian with a number of differences, including some letters such as the double-dotted "i" as seen above. Plus a number of different words.)

Above is something about the city of Kiev. Let's zoom on in closer.

Oh ancient city of Kiev, You are young forever.

How about you, dear blog reader. Ever been to Ukraine or to Kiev? Please share what you enjoyed about the place.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Familiar Face in the Crowd

Here in Kiev, so many new sights. So much to learn about transport, connections, finding stores and such. But do you see what I see? Well, no not the ladies in the foreground. But train your eyes toward the background in front of the highrises.

I'm starting to feel nostalgic. Patriotic too. Let's zoom on in there. Dear ladies, please trust me when I say this photo session is not about either of you. They have just emerged from the Minskii metro and Saturday morning shopping seems to be on their minds.

There's nothing quite like a familiar face across the way. See those golden arches? Are they Beautiful or What? I mean, just think of allll the McDonald's you've ever frequented over the years. All over the world. Talk about exotic cuisine. ;)

Yes, there it is. McDonalds. Ain't it good to know you've got a friend. Yeah, ain't it good to know you've got a friend. Those could be good lyrics for a song. . .

Speaking of songs, further down the boulevard look who we meet. None other than Sir Paul McCartney. Looks as though he visited Kiev back in April. Not to rush things but it might be time to think about changing out that billboard. Hey Sir Paul, no offense, but your shirt could use a little mending there. . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Doing Time in Ukraine: Care for Some Sweet Corn?

So what am I doing here in Ukraine? Treading water, in a way; doing time in a way. It’s just that I need to be out of Russia 90 days to comply with new visa laws. That’s the short answer.

As you may be aware, new visas laws were recently established in Russia. Tourist visas probably were not affected one iota, so fear not if you’ve been dreaming of a visit. Most visa categories, however, face special challenges now and that includes mine, a religious activity visa.

Say, care for an hot ear of sweet corn? It's only 20 rubles - that's 80-ish cents - and it's soooo good. (Photo taken in Russia, which you already knew because that's where they use rubles. . .)

Prior to this new law, renewing my one-year visa involved getting a Letter of Invitation, issued by local Office of Visas and Immigration. Armed with that document, several others and $350 or so, I would exit the country, visit a Russian consulate (there are hundreds around the world) and make application. The procedure was fairly straightforward. The usual snag was with waiting for the Letter of Invitation to be issued and then delivered, often several weeks after my visa had expired and I had left the country.

Given the choice, I doubt that I would have chosen to exit Russia each year for visa renewal. It gobbles up time and energy not to mention funds. Besides that, there’s little choice about when the visa expires and a person must exit the country on or before that date.

On the other hand, visa renewal gives a person the chance to leave the country and go somewhere new. Over my 9-plus years in Russia, I have renewed my visa in the US most often but also in Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Tallinn and Salzburg. And that meant spending time in those cities. Noooo complaints there!

But now with the new laws, things have changed. Now, with most visa categories, here is the choice of visa type: a) a 3-month visa (single entry) or b) a one-year visa (multi-entry) with 90 days maximum in Russia every 180 days. I requested the first type visa but ended up with the second. Drat, drat, a thousand times drat.

So, here’s how that applies: When my visa was issued 20th May, the 180-day countdown started immediately and it will end mid-November. Then the 90-day countdown began on May 24th, the day I arrived in Moscow.

Last week when I left for Ukraine, it was day #68 inside Russia, so now it’s time to spend serious weeks outside of Russia. The nice thing, a person can go anywhere – back to the US, to Antarctica or Zimbabwe: anywhere outside the country.

There's bound to be a connection between visa renewal and sweet corn on sale. . .

For me, Ukraine is the perfect choice for several reasons. For one thing, the Ukrainian border is close to Rostov and easily accessible by bus or train. Best of all, US citizens no longer need visas to enter the country. Another advantage is that there are many congregations of our fellowship in Ukraine and to me that means family: places to go and visit.

Between now and mid-November, I need to be outside of Russia 11-ish weeks. Fortunately, these weeks can be chopped up and I can be in and out of Russia, just so I don’t exceed 90 days total. So for now I’m in the Ukraine for 5 weeks, through mid-September, then back to Rostov for a week, then repeat and so on and so forth.

So you can see, this is quite an adventure. Not one I had particularly counted on but what an opportunity, eh?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Air Is Yours: At the Station, Part 2

T-shirts with English expressions are quite popular and I often wonder if folks have any clue what they’re saying as they parade around town. Sometimes I’ll offer to translate.

This nice lady and I both were waiting to board the train from Donetsk to Kiev when I noticed this shirt of hers and thought of you dear blog readers - that's you and you. . . and you and YOU too. And I knew you would Insist on seeing this shirt. If only you knew.

So I offered to translate. It was the least I could do, really, and we enjoyed visiting. And suddenly, it was All Aboard! And there was hardly time for a photo. . .but we snapped real quick like. (Tell you the truth, I was surprised she said allowed me to shoot.)

The air is yours. . . (Am I the last to know this?)

BEACH OUTHPAR (Could this beach have started out as SouthparK?)

Quite inspiration, don't ya think? I mean, just to think that the air belongs to you. That you're forever young. It's effective and all that. Thank goodness the last line is not CAR RAN *OVER* KENNY. That would be a Not SO EFFECT.

Dear blog readers, what t-shirts have you seen with amazingly convoluted English? Did you translate into, like Mongolian or Spanish or whatever? We wanna hear your stories. Remember, the air is yours.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

All Aboard: Overnight Train from Donetsk to Kiev, Ukraine

Train travel has its own special charms. But one of the challenges is managing the baggage. Lugging suitcases up or down long flights of steps that go up over trains on the tracks takes muscles. Muscles I can barely pronounce let alone find anywhere on my own arms. Escalators are sometimes there, sometimes working.

But thank goodness for friends such as Volodya who offer to help. Volodya is a student at Ukrainian Bible Institute in Donetsk. But you can't fool me, I told him. You're obviously a weight-lifter. So here we are, luggage already on board, filling time until train departs.

This is an overnight train, one of the longest trains I've seen, with 19-some carriages. It runs daily between Donetsk and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Thinking 40-60 passengers per carriage, depending on type. So it does end up being lots of people. That means making new friends.

Welcome aboard. Here's our flight attendant on the left and your friendly guide on the right. ;) But may we direct your attention to the steps. They're steep and narrow. And when it comes to navigating the steps with luggage, it's sure is nice to have a muscle-bound friend in tow. (Or maybe that would be vice versa - to be in tow behind a muscle-bound friend.)
How about you dear blog reader. Have you had the pleasure of riding long distance trains in Eastern Europe? Please share your adventure with us!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The View from Where I Sit

Oh wish I had my camera with me. Sitting at an internet cafe here in Kiev and writing quick because time is running out but straight ahead of me is a young lady communicating via Skype or some such. On the left side of her monitor is a picture of the guy she's talking with. On the right is her picture. And they're using sign language. So interesting. She's dressed to the hilt in a summer-time sort of way. And they're talking a mile a minute with their hands. Can you imagine this?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Much Do YOU Know About the Olympics?

You may be following the Olympics in Beijing, maybe not. Regardless of how closely you're following the games, it's sure as shootin' that you're way ahead of the folks in this video. Check out Jay Leno interviewing people on the street.

Where are the Danes from?
Which is longer: the 200 meter men's butterfly or the 200 meter men's backstroke?
Where do you find the Poles?
How many metals did the country of IKEA win in the last Olympics?
Why were the 1944 Olympics canceled?

Hilarious. In a way. . .

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Christian Singing School: Donetsk, Ukraine

Five us from Rostov took the train to Donetsk for the 15th annual Christian Singing School, July 6 - 12. The purpose of the school is to encourage congregational singing in Russian-speaking congregations.

This was an intense week of studying music theory, learning new songs and singing in four-part harmony. My contribution was a photo CD: Check out a sample, above.

Oh if only I could include sound for you. The singing was magnificent. Actually, you can catch songs from singing schools past. Just stop by the school's website, click on audio and you're in for a treat.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

How to Attract Males: Rostov Bank Tells All

I keep an eye on this billboard because, for one thing, I like the Soviet Era Nostalgia art: It's enlightening and it offers a peek into the Soviet soul. You may recall earlier posts about Husbands, Pilots and Credit and then Ice Cream, Bread and Banking. I learn things from this billboard. Things that can help me in my own life.

Here she is, a young lady overlooking the Don steppe, standing by a vehicle, surveying the vast prairie. Looking for adventure? Waiting for a handsome Cossack to gallop closer? Let's find out.

Top lines: Would you like to be attractive to men? Now that's a silly question. Like, Is Putin Orthodox? Or Do Russians care for sunflower seeds? It's a given. So let's continue.

Oopsie, where did our ad go? Here's something about the Intourist Hotel. Quite a nice place to stay, by the way, overlooking the Don River. Not the most economical place in town (cough, cough) but certainly elegant with an dreamy view of the Don River.

Speaking of dreamy views, there's a gentleman heading this way. Mercy me, is the billboard working its magic already? Could there be a connection between merely reading about attracting a man and just like that a fellow starts in my direction? Let's include him in the picture just in case he's Prince Charming. He's clad in white, after all, and his white horse - well, it could be tied up back at the Intourist.

But hold on, hold on. Okay, our sign has spun around to our girl. Lets learn more while Prince Charming is still in the picture. There's bound to be a connection there somehow.

He's coming closer, closer. And we need to zoom in. . .we're zoom, zoom, zooming on in there. . .

Top two lines: Want to be attractive to men?
Third line: Get credit,
Fourth line: Buy a car.

Well there you go. Who would have guessed it would be so easy? Thank you SKB bank. One can only imagine the amount of research, data analysis and such that went into arriving at that conclusion.

So where has my Russian Cossack in white gone? He seems to have walked right out of the picture. Or maybe he's waiting for me at the bank. . .

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Remembering Johnny: A Tribute to John Mark Stallings

Johnny Stallings, 46, beloved son of Gene and Ruth Ann Stallings died earlier this week. What’s special about Johnny is that he was born with Downs syndrome. And what’s so special about his family is that they're a high profile clan, Gene being a professional football coach, now retired.

Photo courtesy Dallas Morning News

Coach Stallings was with the Dallas Cowboys when I crossed paths with the family in the early 80's. I saw them at church, filing into a pew in the auditorium: four lovely daughters and Johnny smack in the middle.

It was dear Johnny who touched people’s hearts. He certainly touched mine. I felt an immediate connection with him because then I was teaching special needs students at Irving High School. Not that Johnny would have reason to remember me. That boy had lots of fans.

When Johnny was born in 1962, few resources were available for a family with a special needs child. Having produced a handicapped child seemed grounds for embarrassment. At first, the Stallingses didn't know of one other family with a handicapped child. It was a very dark chapter for Johnny's parents. I will care for the girls, I will care for Johnny, but I will never again be happy, Ruth Ann had told Gene.

But what a difference a few years makes. It was Johnny's older sisters who led the way, spending hours with him daily after school, working with him. The day Johnny took his first steps was a turning point when his parents started to see Johnny through his sisters' eyes . Eventually Ruth Ann would come to say, I thank God every day for sending us Johnny.

Here are my own favorite memories of Johnny:
One Sunday night during children’s Bible class, I was sitting in the back and Johnny came up, sat down beside me and wanted to show off his new class ring. Now there's a typical graduating senior for you.

I remember the little birthday party the Stallingses threw for Johnny one Sunday evening in the fellowship hall. It must have been his 25th and just a small group of his favorite church pals were there. Ruth Ann was beaming, leading the bunch singing Happy Birthday. Gene was off on the sidelines looking on, obviously touched by the poignant scene.

One Thanksgiving weekend in the early 90's, I was spending the evening with dear friends in Abilene, Bill and Ann. It happens that their daughter-in-law is Anna Lee, Johnny's oldest sister. That evening Johnny called to talk and it was so fun overhearing Anna Lee telling Johnny how she had seen him on TV in the commercial he and his dad had done for The United Way. Oh Johnny, now you're a move star, she said.

For the rest of the story, you would enjoy Another Season: A Coach’s Story of Raising an Exceptional Son. When it first came out, I spotted it at some friends' house when they invited me over for dinner. I don't remember the dinner menu, who else was there or what we (they) talked about. But I do remember devouring the book that evening, then going out and grabbing a copy for myself and one for a friend who had a Downs syndrome baby. It's such an uplifting story.

A special salute to the Stallings family for their example, for showing how to adjust to having a special child in the family. And a tribute to Johnny for just being himself, a guy for loved people for who they are.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Rostov's Favorite Son Dies at 89

Alexander Solzhenitsyn passed away Sunday evening in Moscow. He was 89 years old, remarkable in a land where the life expectancy for males is 59 years. An age that's even more significant considering his years in Stalin's prison camps.

Solzhenitsyn was reared and educated right here in Rostov-on-Don. Once I asked why there's no acknowledgment of him in the city - no statue, for instance. Someone answered, Well, he's still alive and we put up statues only for people who have died. Seems logical enough. . .
I wanted more information about Solzhenitsyn and somebody knew which elementary school he attended. So that very afternoon our sister Vernonika went with me to find the spot. We hit several dead ends, but eventually on a side street in the center of the city we found Solzhenitsyn's elementary school, now a government office building, but it does have a plaque in his honor.

Here's the plaque affixed to the school. This is exactly what I was hoping to find. Hold on, I can translate it for you.

Here, in School No. 15, (Malevicha) from the year 1927 until the year 1936 studied Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (The school was named in honor of the artist Malevich.)
He later studied math and physics at Rostov State University..

Well, after studies at Rostov State University, things went south quickly for our hero Alexander Solzhenitsyn and, if I'm not mistaken, on the very day that Berlin fell to the Russian army, he was arrested for being disrespectful of Stalin. And, off he went to a labor camp.

Photo from the gulag. A happy camper he was not. But he most definitely was a surviver. It was here he wrote about life in Stalin's labor camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Russia's Total Eclipse: A Headache to Some

Of course you've heard about the total elipse over Russia yesterday. Millions of people witnessed it midmorning in Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia. It was mid-afternoon before a partial eclipse passed over us here the Rostov area, three time zones west of Novosibirsk.

View of the eclipse from St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square in Moscow.
(Photo courtesy of AP.)

I observed an interesting eclipse-related phenomenon. Last evening one friend, let's call him Andrey, complained of a headache.

It's because of the eclipse, he said. It's the electro-magnetic waves caused by the eclipse. And I'm not the only one. My sister has a headache too and also Karina is having problems with her heart.

Quite often I find myself skeptical here of what I consider (weird) unsubstantiated connections between cause and effect. For example, that a person will get sick from drinking anything colder than room temperature. (A blog topic in and of itself. . .) Or that sitting directly on an un-upholstered chair -- or a chair without a cloth mat of some sort (a cold chair) -- will cause infertility. (Please correct me if I've been misinformed on that.) I tend to slip into being an arrogant American and think to myself, just another old Russian superstition. And of course, as an educator, my first reaction is to provide enlightenment.

Well if an eclipse brings on headaches, then everybody in Russia would have a headache, I said.

No, not so because not everybody is sensitive to the magnetic waves.

Hmmm. I didn't have an answer for that one. I decided to get more information on the subject, who knows, maybe there's something to this. Did a quick Google search last evening and came up with nothing, really. Today I'll try to talk with at least three people about this and get their perspective.

Anyway, we're all in agreement that an eclipse did happen and that it's fascinating. Thanks to Russia Today and YouTube for a glimpse at the rare and wonderful phenomenon.

* * * * *

This morning arriving at the orphanage, I let myself in through the gated outdoor play area. Preschoolers were darting around our legs and apparently I asked one of the caretakers how it was going.

Oh it's bad, it's really bad

Da? How so?

Well after that eclipse yesterday, we have all sorts of problems. Animals were affected by the eclipse and the children feel it too. They're sick and upset.

The children are sick? I saw children galloping around and cavorting as usual.

Well, look at that boy there. She motioned to a little guy 15 feet away, sitting on a rug and whimpering, whining about something.

See, he's all upset after the eclipse. It really affected him.

As I recall, he can be little fussy and whiny on non-eclipse days too. Maybe it wasn't the eclipse after all. Maybe he accidentally ate something cold. Maybe the thought of ice cream floated through his little three-year-old brain, caused a chemical reaction of some sort and that has caused all this.

Friday, August 01, 2008

What a Fun July 30th Birthday

After Wednesday evening Bible study we went to Mama Pizza for fancy desserts. This was to celebrate July 30th birthdays -- of Arnold Schwartzenegger, Henry Ford, Hilary Swank, Paul Anka, Elizabeth Haley and - oh, me!

Here's the whole bunch - or at least the dessert afficianodos who could work ice cream into their schedules. And waistlines.

Meet dear Amal, Misha (standing), Marianna, Karina and Artash. Each of these special folks deserves a whole paragraph, make that a chapter in a book, if not a book. But what does that have to do with ice cream?

There's dear Julia, Tanya, Artur and. . . that's Yours Truly, the birthday girl. See my pretty roses in the corner? Roses and chocolate, that's the Russian way. Gotta love it!

* * * * *

Earlier in the day, I went to the orphanage with 30-some bananas. It was so hot outside and I had wanted to take ice cream for children. That got vetoed of course, because of the prevailing thought that eating something cold and all the kids would end up sick and in the hospital - a exaggeration about the hospital part - however, bananas would be just fine. Oh was that fun, to be banana queen, and give out a gift with such a-peal.

Last Saturday at the orphanage, children were outside playing and, for the first time, seeing a little person - a baby! Lots of them, in fact. And babies need fresh air, too. What interesting creatures! Look at all those little tiny people over there.

Oh look, here's a little person up close. It's coming close to us! When an interesting little fellow!

Not quite sure who's on the outside looking in. But everybody's interested in what's on the other side of the fence. But it was the big ones looking this way who got to eat the bananas and they loved them. And monkeys love bananas and at the zoo they're inside the cages. So then maybe it's the older children who are on the inside. There's some logic in there. Or maybe not. Anyway, the ice cream went to 30-some caretakers. Oh what a relief, not a one of them ended up in the hospital after eating something cold. Whew!

I might add that almost all the employees of the orphanage showed up at work the morning of my birthday, even folks who had the day off. How could they possibly have known it was my birthday? How did they know I wanted to celebrate? But there they were, dressed up nicely and oh, did I ever feel special, that so many would want to celebrate with me. Sometimes it's hard to keep things in perspective with all this attention I get. But then again, it may not have been about me at all. They might have come to the orphanage simply to pick up their paychecks.

Now there's some humble pie for a birthday girl. Humble pie a la mode! ;)