Author: Expat Alien

TCK, Global Nomad, Expat, Traveler writing about what is and what has been

www.kremlin.ru

Victory Day Moscow

May 8th, Victory Day or VE Day, marks the end of World War II in Europe.  Due to the time changes, the Russians celebrate this occasion on May 9th.  They have military parades on Red Square, civilian parades down city streets, run old war movies all day on TV, and they gather with family and friends to eat and make many toasts. The USSR suffered the most casualties of any country during World War II, estimated at 27 million.  China comes in a distant second with 10 million. Indeed they have reason to celebrate.

I was in Moscow in 1995 when Boris Yeltsin pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this day. Celebrities from all over the world attended including US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

We were living in an apartment on the 5th floor right on Tverskaya, one of the main streets downtown that led right into Red Square and on the parade route.

One night we were shaken out of bed in the middle of the night. I thought it was an earthquake, but it kept going and going and after a while I thought we were being invaded because it sounded like large trucks. I looked out the window and there were huge tanks rolling down the middle of our street in the middle of the night. What was going on? Turns out they were practicing for the big military parades on Victory day. This went on for several weeks.

On May 8th, we were glued to the BBC watching the celebrations in the UK including the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace with the Queen and the Queen Mum. From there BBC took us to Paris and we saw the parade around the Arc de Triumph and down the Champs Elysees.

We took the video camera and went down to Red Square and saw the big banners and the stage set up. The Hare Krishnas placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier (very surreal). We ran into some high school students from Wisconsin who said they were part of a marching band. We figured they were just on some school trip.

On May 9th we didn’t have to leave our apartment. First we watched the parade on Red Square on TV. Then the Communists paraded down our street so we watched them from the balcony and later in the day those tanks came rolling down in formation.

The last parade of the day was the marching bands. And in the middle of all the marching bands was the McFarland High School Band from Wisconsin playing “On Wisconsin”.

Unbelievable.

 

The 70th Anniversary celebrations last week were the largest in Russian history but President Obama and the EU leaders chose not to attend this time.

Any gathering in Russia starts with Zakuski.  These are the warm ups, the small plates, the appetizers.  They can include beet salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, pickled mushrooms, pickled herring, dried fish, caviar, or any other thing you can think of.  Just so there is lots of it.  For the toasts, vodka is the staple, followed by cognac for desert.  Sometimes champagne precedes the vodka.

Here are a couple of my favorite Zakuski (they are easy to make):

Julienne (Mushrooms in Sour Cream)

1 lb mushrooms

3 Tbsp butter

1 ½ Tbsp flour

1 cup sour cream

½ tsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

Slice the mushrooms.  Sauté in butter for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring.  Add sour cream and lemon juice.  Keep the heat low and cook for 15 minutes more.  If the sauce seems too thin, sprinkle in a little flour or if too thick add water.  The sauce should be like thick cream.  Season with salt and pepper.This can be served in individual cups or all together in a large dish.

Cucumbers in Smetana (Sour cream)

2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill

1 ½ cups sour cream

2-3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, pressed

½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)

¾ tsp salt (or to taste)

Toss and chill

 

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The Visa Lottery

I recently took a quick trip to Florida to see old friends. It started out with a cab ride at 7:30 in the morning. Way too early in my opinion. My driver was from Somalia. He spent some time complaining about the state of the world and over use of guns. When he was growing up in Somalia nobody had guns. Now they all have the light Russian guns. Rat a tat tat tat tat….

He had won the visa lottery. He asked if I knew what that was. Yes, I knew. I worked with a guy in Moscow who won it and I knew several people who entered every year. It was a program set up in 1990 and is officially call the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Every year the Attorney General looks at the immigrants over the previous five years and makes countries eligible or ineligible based on how many people from that particular country have immigrated to the USA.

The aim is to diversify the immigrant population. Every year there are about 50,000 people who get their visas this way. If they are from a qualifying country, they must have a high school diploma, two years work experience and two years job training. In 2008 13.5 million people applied for the 50,000 slots worldwide. People are randomly selected, hence the “lottery”. My cab driver hit the jackpot in 2006. Last year he bought a house. He is living the dream.

One downside of applying for the Diversity Visa is you have shown intent to immigrate and it is unlikely you will ever get a non-immigrant visa. However, it doesn’t seem to stop people.

I arrived in Florida to perfect weather. We didn’t go to Orlando for the usual attractions. I have never been to any of them. We went out on the lakes and were impressed with the natural beauty of the area. We took advantage of the fine dining and over the top cocktails. And we laughed till we cried.

As we cabbed and Ubered around the city we met a Russian and several Venezuelan drivers. All now proud to be American.

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From DC to Rangoon, 1952

Fourteen hours from New York to London. Things have change a bit since then. But they did travel in class….

 

Sunday, Oct 26, 1952

Dear Folks,

Our time in Washington is rapidly slipping away. I hope you got my telegram saying we were cleared and would be leaving soon. They have asked for our plane reservations to leave on Wednesday the 29th. Seems like there are lots of last minute preparations to take care of. 

The following is the schedule we have asked for but won’t know about reservations until Tuesday morning.

Leave Washington      1/29    12:24 pm

Arr New York             10/29  2:15 pm

Leave New York         10/29  4:00 pm

Arr London                 10/30  11:00 am (London time)

Leave London              10/31  5:55 pm

Arrive Beirut               11/1    5:40 am (Beirut time)

Leave Beirut                11/4    4:35 am

Arrive Calcutta           11/4    11:40 pm (Calcutta time)

Leave Calcutta            11/6    6:30 am

Arr Rangoon               11/6    10:55 am

Will go from here to Calcutta on Pan American Airways and from Calcutta to Rangoon on India National Airways.

With the rest stops in London, Beirut and Calcutta it should break up the trip and make it more enjoyable. In Beirut, especially, we will have a chance to see a few things.

I think the least expensive and fastest mail service for you to write us will be on the airmail sheets such as I’ve enclosed. They go for 10 cents and come with the stamp on them. You can buy them only at the post office.

We are sitting on the banks of the Potomac doing our letter writing today while the boys run and play. It’s a nice sunny day just a little on the chilly side.

On Friday evening we took the boys to Bob Wilson’s to watch TV while went to a reception at the Burmese Embassy. We thought it was to be a small reception for a delegation of Burmese who have been here about three weeks and are now returning. It turned out to be this but in addition a most delicious buffet supper. Lots of prominent people there as well as those of small importance such as us. We did have an enjoyable time and I had met most of this delegation at the Dept. of Agriculture so didn’t feel too much out of place. It gave Virginia a chance to meet several of the Burmese people with whom I’ll be working in Rangoon.

 

…  I assume there was more to this letter but that is the end of what I have.

Here is an interesting film promo from 1950 for Pan American Airways.

 

 

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Women’s Day Torte

Happy International Women’s Day! For some reason this day reminded me of a torte I have made several times and associate with Women’s Day. Probably because it is so delicious.

Turkey is the top producer of Hazelnuts but they are also grown commercially in Europe, Iran, and the Caucasus. The hazelnut-chocolate spread, Nutella, accounts for about 25% of all hazelnut production.

Hazelnut Torte

½ lb shelled hazelnuts

8 eggs, separated

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup breadcrumbs

Grated rind of 1 lemon

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup whipped cream

1 cup tart jelly

Grind the unblanched hazelnuts very fine. Put 2 tablespoons of the ground nuts aside for the outside of the cake.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar till very light. Add the breadcrumbs, lemon rind, lemon juice, vanilla and ground nuts. Fold in the egg whites whipped very stiff but not dry.

Bake in 2 layers, 30 minutes at 325 degree F. Cool in the pans.

Take out and put together with whipped cream and a little jelly spread between the layers. Whip the rest o f the jelly with a fork and spread it over the top and sides of the cake. Powder with unused 2 tablespoons of ground nuts. Decorate the top of the cake with a swirl of whipped cream. Chill before serving.

 

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Adapt, Improvise, Learn….

I moved from the East Coast to the North (Minnesota). Same country. Should not be that big of an adjustment. But it is.

Change is not bad but can be challenging. In Virginia I could go into any grocery store and buy beer and wine. I could buy beer and wine at the drug store or the 7 Eleven. Here I have to go to a separate liquor store to buy any kind of liquor. First time I went to Trader Joe’s I panicked. No wine? Luckily they had their wine store just next door.

Food shopping takes getting used to as well. What grocery store is good for what kind of food? Where do I find my favorite things? Or do I have to discover all new food items? I live right across the street from the Farmer’s Market so when the temperature gets to a manageable number, it will open and I’m sure problem will be solved. In the meantime, I wander around trying to understand what I am looking at.

Another thing I noticed is the food tastes better here. Maybe I’m imagining it but it tastes closer to real food. I guess it is closer to the farm. People eat more locally. And it is easier to eat more locally.

People talk to you here. On the East Coast people rarely talk to you or acknowledge you. Here random people talk to you all the time. And most people are friendly. All very strange. Am I supposed to respond? Should I talk to these people or pretend I don’t hear them? I think I am supposed to talk to them.

Traffic. There isn’t any. Okay during rush hour there may be some crowded highways but that’s about it. No sitting in stop and go traffic for hours at a time. It is like living in a dream. I can go places without being obsessed by how much traffic there is going to be. And the really amazing incredible thing is once I get there I can find a place to park. That like never happened on the East Coast.

The average high this year has been 20 degrees F. Not so terrible. At least we don’t have the snow the East Coast got this year. Was able to avoid that nightmare. I do admit, though, the wind can cool you down. It’s cold out on the plains.

The music/art/theater scene is amazing. The DC area has nothing like this. It is local and accessible. People are doing interesting stuff. I live in the middle of a thriving artist community. I love it.

So challenges, yes. Problems, no. Adapt, Improvise, Learn….

 

Things I left behind

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Marilyn at Communicating Across Boundaries has challenged TCK’s to write about things they have left behind.

The only place I had ever known

I was born in Burma and lived there for three years before my family moved to my passport country in the USA. I spoke 5 languages and had never lived anyplace else. I lost four of my five languages. We moved into a three bedroom house in Ithaca, NY and when I would find myself in a room all by myself I would start to scream in terror. I had never been alone before. In Burma we had servants and nanny and neighbors who were always around. On our way back to Burma after two years we were in a plane crash and I lost my favorite doll in the fire. I have had trouble with fear of fire ever since.

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Nanny

On leaving Burma after only a year to move to New York I left behind my nanny who had been my constant companion and spoiled me terribly. I didn’t like my school in New York and refused to go back after the first day because the teacher didn’t know my name. My brother told me to get over it and move on.

English

A year later we moved to Mexico City. They didn’t speak English there. I couldn’t talk to anybody or understand the TV. Plus I went to British school so even the English was funny.

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Dogs

We had two beautiful dogs that lived on our compound in Mexico. They belonged to the landlady but spent most of their time at my house. I loved those dogs.

Friends

I only lived in Bogota for one year but I made some really good friends and had a great time. I cried all the way from Bogota to Miami when I left.

Travel

From Bogota we moved to Nigeria and I made some good friends there as well but I was never very attached to it. I was in boarding school in Switzerland for two years and enjoyed the freedom of being able to hop on a train and see all kinds of amazing places. Leaving friends behind in Switzerland and starting over in my passport country was hard. I had a lot of adjustment problems I didn’t understand at the time.

I lost a lot of “things” along the way like dolls, toys, records, books and clothes. But I never missed them the way I did the people. After we left Mexico I lost TV but that never bothered me either. I realized later it put me at a disadvantage with my American peers. But that was only one of many things.

What did you leave behind?

Two Books: Expat Advice And Adventures

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I recently read an e-book on culture shock, “Culture Shock, A Practical Guide”, by H.E. Rybol. The author is a Third Culture Kid who is familiar with both culture shock and reverse culture shock.

She says it is all about being connected to a new place. You need to figure out a way to feel comfortable so you to relax enough to enjoy your surroundings. She provides tips and tools to help. Be prepared, do your homework. Get involved, take a class, join a group.

“We need to let go of preconceived ideas to make room for reality”.

I recently moved from the East Coast to the Mid-West and after reading this book, I am thinking we all probably go into some kind of culture shock when we move anywhere. I think I have some culture shock. I need to get out and see what’s out there, learn my way around a new city, make new friends, figure out where to shop.

These things are common to every move. They are just heightened when we move to a new country where we don’t speak the language or know all the cultural differences.

H.E. Rybol acknowledges it is a process and can be challenging but affirms that it is worth every bit of it and encourages everybody to take that plunge. The rewards are “humility, kindness, gratefulness, and compassion”. You will be a better person.

 

81sP7Jf+nRL._SL1500_Another e-book I read recently was written by two expats getting to know new places. It is called “Two Brauds Abroad, A Departure from Life as We Know It”, by Camille Armantrout and Stephanie De La Garza. The format of the book is in the form of email correspondence between two old friends. Camille is posted to Ghana because of her husband’s work. Stephanie has the travel bug and decides to sell everything and move to Central America and do volunteer work while house sitting.

Although Camille has the stability of her husband’s job she can rely on, she is not living in the lap of luxury. They are upcountry in Kumasi and share a house with several other expats. Their water and electricity are sporadic and they walk or take taxis for transportation.

Africa has its own set of challenges and Camille had her share of culture shock. She writes about the things she finds confusing, horrible, annoying, and uncomfortable. Once she finds a group of local expats she seems to perk up quite a bit and has more of a social life. In the end I am not convinced she had a wonderful experience but she certainly learned a lot and says she would go back.

On more than one occasion she mentions that under different circumstances she would probably not be friends with the expats she met in Ghana but they were all thrown together in a situation that gave them common ground. She also says one of the things she liked about living in Ghana is the lack of air conditioning. From my experience the houses in Africa are built to allow air to flow and air conditioning is not needed.

When Camille returned to the US she went home to the house she had been living in before she left and a small supportive community she knew well. Everybody welcomed her back with open arms and she suffered very little reverse culture shock.

Stephanie had traveled in Central America on holidays and decided she was sick of the rat race in the US and wanted to give it all up and go live in the jungle. She sold her house and all her belongings, quit her job, and moved to Costa Rica to house sit. Her timing was off so she had to rent for a while before moving into the house. She was immersed in the town, lived very simply, and tried to find volunteer work caring for animals.

She also encountered expats everywhere but tried to stay away from them. She wanted to be a part of where she was. Much of her story was about day to day life. The animals and bugs she encountered, the food she found, the cooking she did, the people she met, the relationships she had. When she first arrived she was sick much of the time and lost a lot of weight but it did not discourage her and she eventually regained her energy and moved on. She had spirit.

The last portion of the book is dedicated to practical tips on preparing for departure and things you should take with you. There is some good practical advice in this section.

Camille’s thoughts on culture shock:

“My advice is drink it all in, mind your feet and use your wonder and horror as catalysts for mind boggling epiphanies”.

Excellent!

 

 

On My Own

paintingsIt’s been 27 years since I lived on my own. And funnily enough, I am back in the same place. I left Minnesota 27 years ago and lived in Florida, Washington DC, Moscow, Russia, and Virginia. And now I am back in Minnesota. How did that happen? And back on my own. Back at square one. But older and wiser…..

I have a beautiful apartment that I decorated the way I wanted to. I listen to loud music that I like. I watch trashy movies whenever I want. I cook when I want to and don’t cook when I don’t want to. I can do whatever I want. Make art. Write. Read. Watch mindless TV. Go out. Stay in.

One of my biggest problems is I am way too good at entertaining myself. So much to do so little time. But then I have trouble accounting for my time because I don’t actually accomplish anything.

My day so far …. Worked from home, danced to Los Lobos, Listened to new music I just found on my iPhone, cruised the Internet (can’t remember why), checked for mail (physical mail), checked email, sent email, read an article in National Geographic on Mites (Yuk!), Thought about what to do for dinner (although not very hungry after reading the Mites article), skimmed thorough local paper, re-read part of my journal from 20 years ago, looked at men on Match.com (ugh), thought about some other stuff I should be doing….

Anyway you get the picture. Sometimes I have projects I get obsessive about. Like doing a needlepoint canvas or scanning old photos or writing a book. When I finish a project I think I should do another project. But the project gets in the way of doing all the things above… and then I get stressed because I think I should be working on my project. It’s not really that bad. I can handle it.

And of course feeling guilty about not writing my blog takes up some of my time as well.

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The pictures are of my bedroom walls. I used to paint and these are some of the paintings and drawings still in my possession. My grand-nieces who are still babies are mesmerized by these colorful paintings.

Enough. Now I am off to the “job hunting” portion of my day.

Talk soon.