Archive for September, 2011

A Child’s History of the USSR

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, one of my student’s from the 5th year invited me to go to work with her. She teaches English at a language school in the center of the city called the Simbirsk Resource Center. Apparently, everyone is very excited that there is a native speaker of English in the city with which to practice. From what I gather, it’s not incredibly uncommon for British citizens to come to Ulyanovsk, but being an American is like being a celebrity. At the school, I got to go to two different classes with young adults and children. The first class I went to was comprised of two girls in the 11th year, basically the equivalent of senior year of high school. At first, only one girl was present. The teacher told her that I was an American and that she would speak with me in English. The girl responded in Russian, “I’m scared,” to which I replied, “Don’t be.” She was shocked that I spoke Russian. I had a great time with the two girls.

For the second class, I spoke with five different children from the 6th class, so they were probably eleven or twelve years old. The younger children were more willing to speak with me and ask me questions. They said a lot of things that amused me. For example, the teacher asked the boys and girls if they wanted to travel to America. Some of the boys said no. When asked why not, one responded, “I’m a patriot.” Interestingly, it seems that some of the stereotypes of the Cold War are still alive and well in Russia as well as the United States. Some twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, both nations still harbor some suspicion towards each other. At least in my experience, I thought that some of this lingering distrust came from two sources: the older generation (some of the people I work with in the summer still think that jeans are a commodity in Russia and that I’m probably being tailed by the KGB) and old text books (I’m still not convinced that my 7th grade geography teacher knew that the Soviet Union had collapsed over a decade before our class). I’m assuming that these reasons also apply in Russia.

The other interesting discussion I had with the boys and girls as well as with the two teachers present in the room was about Soviet history. We were asking the students which Tsars they liked or were interested in. Then, one of the teachers mentioned Stalin, so I proceeded to ask the students what they knew and thought about various Soviet leaders. Interestingly, they confirmed the ideas in this video on youtube. The video is a “children’s” history of the Soviet Union animated with Legos. I recommend everyone watch it. There are subtitles and it’s quite humorous. Apparently, it’s also quite true.

What made me laugh the most was that the students and the teachers didn’t really know who Yuri Andropov or Konstantin Chernenko were. Their comments about Khrushchev was that he had something to do with the Space Race. The remarks about Brezhnev weren’t that enlightening either – he had big eyebrows and liked to kiss people. Furthermore, the majority of the people I talk to in Russia, including the children, seem to dislike Gorbachev because he broke the Soviet Union. It’s interesting how in America that makes one a hero, while in Russia it makes one unpopular. Although Russians seem to enjoy the post-Soviet life, they still harbor some resentment to Gorbachev, probably due to the nearly disastrous early 1990s.

Yuri Andropov

Konstantin Chernenko

Konstantin Chernenko


The British, History, and NOMs

Posted: September 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’m in Russia for two reasons. The first and foremost is to teach American English and American culture. The second is to study the Russian language. As of now, I still don’t have a schedule for when I’ll be taking Russian, but hopefully that will change in a few days. As for teaching English and American culture, I haven’t had my first culture class yet. It was supposed to be on Monday with the 4th year students, but their class has been canceled. The students in the 4th and 5th years are partaking in a conference entitled “Culture as a Resource for Modernization,” which is also attracting a visit from President Medvedev. For the most part, I have been accompanying two different teachers to their classes with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students. While with these classes, I learn an occasional word or two in Russian. What I’ve really been learning with these classes is British English and about the British way of life because the textbooks were all written by British authors. Despite the fact that my brother studied law at Oxford University and that I’ve met one of his friends, who is a lawyer in England, I know absolutely nothing about the British legal system. Thus, when we played a game in class about guessing professions based on a description, I was unable to guess solicitor or barrister. I also was unfamiliar with the word “chiropodist” as a synonym for “podiatrist.” Furthermore, I never knew that milk could go “off” instead of spoiling or going bad. I may still be bumbling with aspects of the Russian language, but after a year in Russia I should be able to perfectly integrate myself with British society.

Dear Mr. Clarkson, some parts of the British language and society make about as much sense as your Peel P50.

Another amusing aspect of my life is having to teach about various aspects of American culture and history. Like myself, many of my fellow Fulbrighters have studied Russian history and literature more than that of America. I have never really enjoyed American history, except for some parts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and I hated pretty much everything I had to read in my American literature class in high school (Nathaniel Hawthorne and Arthur Miller can rot in hell). The reason for this tirade against American history and culture is because I have my first lesson on American history towards the end of this week. My students are supposed to pick a topic of American history of their interest and are to research it on the internet. Then, they are to come to class prepared to give a two-minute oral summary of what they have learned. Also, they are supposed to have discussion questions on their topic as well as other topics of interest. I gave a few suggestions (the Pilgrims, the American Revolution, the Civil War, etc.) and now I’m stuck trying to relearn as much as I can about these and other topics of American history.

I shall now avoid the annoying topic of American history and move on to one of my favorite topics: food. Okay, food is probably my favorite thing in the world. I may have an obsession with Mercedes, and as much as it pains me to state this, no car could outrank food. To avoid anguish, my favorite thing would be eating good food in a Mercedes. I hate getting crumbs all over my car, but it’s survived almost 25 years of crumbs as well as some spilled milk (it took 3 ****ing months to get the smell out of the car), among other things. Actually, many of my early memories involve eating cookies and other snacks in the backseat of my beloved Mercedes. The reasoning for all this rambling is that I saw, and immediately had to buy, the Russian version of Goldfish crackers. Goldfish have always been one of my favorite snacks and I can distinctly remember eating Goldfish crackers in the old Mercedes (both as a little child and a few days before flying to Russia). The Russian name is nowhere near as catchy as Goldfish; instead, they are called “crackers in the shape of fish.” Also, sadly, they are original flavor and not cheddar. Clearly, cheddar is the best flavor of Goldfish. The crackers are yummy and taste the same as American Goldfish, though, so I’m happy with the purchase.


Today, I went on an excursion with many of the foreign students, half of whom live on my floor. We saw some of the sights of Ulyanovsk that I have already seen a few times. We also went into the museum of the school that Lenin studied in. It was somewhat interesting, but if you’ve seen one Neo-classical Gymnasium, you’ve seen them all. Desks and scientific equipment are pretty much the same. The only real differences are which paintings are on the walls and the name on the plaques in the various rooms.

Lenin took his exams in this room.

The excursion was somewhat relaxing in the sense that tour guide Russian is the Russian that I understand the best (well, except for the part in the Gymnasium when the tour guide talked about various laws and principles of physics, I mean, I barely passed that class in my native language and the only things I remember are f = ma and gravity = -9.81meters/second squared). My summer in St. Petersburg taught me all of the important words for trips such as this. “X was built/repaired/destroyed in Y under the orders of Z.” Today was the day that I understood the most of what was said in Russian without words being repeated, rephrased, or translated into English. I learned some cool things about a few sights in the city that I had yet to see. I also now know where a few other museums associated with Lenin are located.

Yet another house that Lenin lived in.

One observation from the excursion was that the people of Ulyanovsk are not used to tourists and foreigners in their city. During the Soviet era, Ulyanovsk was a somewhat popular destination for tourists making pilgrimages to the birthplace of Lenin. At the moment, tourism is pretty low, but the city is trying to once again bring tourists in. Currently, a Hilton hotel is being constructed in the center of the city. Owing to the lack of tourists, the people on the streets were a little confused by the presence of a group of roughly 30 foreigners and a tour guide wandering around and discussing important monuments and events from the history of the city.

The university and some of the kids who live on my floor.

An interesting tidbit from the tour was the issue of the name of the city. During the Soviet era, the names of many cities were changed. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, many cities reverted to their pre-Soviet names. This was not the case with Ulyanovsk. The city decided not to change the name back to Simbirsk because the Soviet era was what led to the development of the city. Around the time of the name change, the city had roughly 20,000 residents. Currently, there are over 600,000 residents in the city. The local government felt that the city had changed and grown too much to revert to the old name.

A former monastery, I think, I don't have a very large attention span.

Doing the Tourist Thing

Posted: September 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

Song of the day to accompany this post: Fast Cars by the Buzzcocks. Who doesn’t love some great British punk rock? It’s okay that the Buzzcocks hate fast cars, none of the UAZ vehicles have very high top speeds. Also, I’ve been watching a lot of “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” on Youtube. Finally, the bass solo towards the beginning of the song reminds me of the Mute City level of F-Zero for the SNES. Video game withdrawal is worse than I thought it would be. Don’t even get me started on withdrawal from driving.

On Saturday, I did the tourist thing around the city. I met up with one of the teachers from my department and she showed me around the sights of the center of the city. We met up to go to the 70th anniversary celebration for UAZ. I got to sit in one of the WWII era trucks (a ZIS-5, read the post below for more details about the truck), which was amazing.

Not quite a tank, but still an important vehicle for the war effort.

I was content just to look at it, but the day got better because I actually got to touch it. The truck is towards the top of the list of vehicles that I’ve been allowed to sit in and touch, probably number three after Professor Bauer’s 1948 MG TC and Mr. Tatu’s Ural motorcycle. The Ural was made in Russia in the late 1990s and was originally a Soviet motorcycle that was basically a reverse-engineered BMW from the 1930s.

When being a REES major pays off (as well as knowing the coolest professors).

So I like showing off my adventures just a little. Double bonus: the faithful old Mercedes is in the background.

In addition to the car display, there were a few things set up for people to entertain themselves. There were bouncy castles and other toys for children to play with or on. For the adults, there was a shooting gallery. Shooting galleries like these must be pretty popular, because I saw another three or four in the greater area of Lenin’s Square.

How long did you think it would take me to find weapons in Russia?

From Lenin’s Square, we headed off to some of the sights that I had seen a few days before with the girls from the 4th year. The teacher, however, was more knowledgeable about some of the landmarks. For instance, until recently, taking photos of the old bridge across the Volga was forbidden due to strategic reasons. Until the second bridge opened a few years ago, the bridge in Ulyanovsk was the only crossing of the Volga between Kazan and Samara. Another fun thing that I didn’t notice a few days before was the plants on the side of the hill. It’s hard to see in the photo, but they spell out “Lenin” in Russian.

I want plants that spell out stuff.


We ventured to the Hotel Venets, Ulyanovsk’s skyscraper. The hotel is about 24 or 25 stories tall and there is a bar and restaurant on the top floor. There is also a balcony, from which one can see all of Ulyanovsk.

Good thing I got over my fear of heights in Germany and Austria last summer. "Hey kids, today's activity - climb another tall building!"

The last place we visited was the monument to the Great Patriotic War. In addition to a towering star, there is an eternal flame.

The same complex also contains a memorial for Russians lost in Afghanistan as well as other more recent conflicts such as Chechnya and Nargorno-Karabakh (what happens in Gov225 stays in your life forever, right Lauren?).

We also ran into an interesting a jolly fellow at the war memorial. He was dressed as an officer of the White Army from 1918. He spoke a little bit of English and wanted to know if the pictures of us would make it to America. Clearly interested in history, he shared with me some information on how to find out more about my great-grandfather’s time in the White Army on the internet. If bored one weekend, I may try to find him again and ask him more about Russian history.

Лучше смерть, чем потеря Родины - Better death than the loss of the homeland.

UAZ Anniversary

Posted: September 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

A Brief(ish) History of UAZ

Prior to 1929, the Soviet automotive industry was almost non-existent. One “auto manufacturer” was the Russo-Balt Waggon Works, located in Riga. Russo-Balt did not design their own vehicles, instead they assembled vehicles from parts purchased abroad. Most notably, Russo-Balt produced a light truck through an agreement with the Fiat Motor Company of Italy. The only other producer of vehicles in the Soviet Union until 1930 was AMO, located in Moscow. The Avtomobilnoe Moskovskoe Obshchestvo (AMO), or Moscow Automobile Society, was opened in 1917, just prior to the Revolution. Until 1924, however, the plant only engaged in repair work. Then, AMO assembled trucks under license through Fiat.

Truck assembly at AMO in 1927.

In 1927, Stalin unveiled his first Five-Year Plan. Within this strategy for industrialization, Stalin made provision for the annual production of 3,500 automobiles. Stalin focused the expansion of the automotive production on two projects: the expansion of AMO and the creation of a new automotive plant. Both of these projects were to rely on foreign assistance. On May 24, 1929, a agreement was made between AMO and the Arthur J. Brandt Company of the United States. In the deal, Brandt was to spend two years reorganizing and upgrading AMO with the goal of producing 25,000 Ford 2.5 ton trucks annually. The factory closed and was reopened on October 1, 1931. Additionally, the factory was renamed ZIS (Zavod Imeni Stalina, Factory in the name of Stalin). A short time later, the factory began designing a luxury limousine that would be worthy of bearing the name of the Soviet leader. These imposing and lavish limousines were modeled off of American Packards, Lincolns, and Cadillacs.


ZIS also produced a larger truck, the ZIS-5, that was a copy of the American Autocar model CA light truck. In the fall of 1941, the Soviet leadership moved the ZIS factory to Ulyanovsk for protection. Production of the ZIS-5 started in the spring of 1942 in Ulyanovsk. In 1943, the Soviets decided to leave the ZIS factory in Ulyanovsk and to rebuild the factory in Moscow from the original plans and with the addition of repossessed German technology. Independent from ZIS, the factory became UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod or Ulyanovsk Automotive Factory).


In 1958, UAZ began to produce its own, independently developed vehicles. In 1965, UAZ began producing the UAZ-452, which in a slightly updated form is produced to this day. The factory began producing its other iconic and long-running model, the UAZ-469, in 1972. In addition to the updated examples of the preceding two models, UAZ also produces three models for civilian use. Since December of 2003, UAZ has produced the UAZ-Hunter, a modernized, civilian version of the UAZ-469. In 2005, UAZ began the production of the affordable and adept off-roader, the UAZ-Patriot. Since 2008, UAZ has also manufactured the UAZ-Pickup.


70 Years of UAZ

On September 17, 2011, the city of Ulyanovsk celebrated the 70th anniversary of UAZ. In the center of the city, on Lenin Square, there was a display of UAZ products and various other festivities. Except for the UAZ-469, all of the major models of UAZ vehicles were represented in the display. There was a ZIS-5 from the time period of the Second World War, or Great Patriotic War as it is known in Russia.

Sitting in a ZIS-5. Life is good in Ulyanovsk.

The example of the UAZ-452 was painted and equipped for one of its more common roles, an ambulance.

Despite the side of the vehicle saying, "Quick Medical Help," these vehicles always move at a snail's pace.

Of the modern, civilian models, the UAZ-Hunter and UAZ-Pickup were present.


Inside, the UAZ-Pickup was a comfortable and reasonably well-equipped vehicle, even though it lacked a radio.

Heat, AC, cup-holder, and a cigarette lighter - yes. Sadly there was no radio, or attempt to hide where it should go.

It also appears to be a promising off-road vehicle. It comes with a 5-speed manual transmission. Showing its true off road-characteristics, it has a selection of 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive options usually only found on true off-road vehicles such as Jeeps, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, and the Mercedes G-Klasse.

5-speeds and a slew of 2- and 4-wheel drive options.

Yesterday, two girls from the 4th year took me into the center of the city for a walk around. The walk, and travel to and around the center in general, was difficult because there is currently a massive reconstruction effort on roads and sidewalks. We went to a breathtaking overlook of the Volga. The city of Ulyanovsk is on both sides of the river. The side I live on is the older and main side. The other side is mostly residential and industrial. The bridge in this photo is the older of the two that crosses the Volga.

The Volga

We also passed a series of interesting statues and monuments. For example, there is one monument to the Russian letter ë (pronounced “yo”), which, as I was told by my guides, has a history with the city of Simbirsk/Ulyanovsk. Nikolai Karamzin, the writer of the first complete history of Russia, came from this city.In additional to his historical pursuits, he petitioned for the creation of this letter. Thus, the city of Ulyanovsk has a monument to the letter ë.

The Letter Ë

One of the other sights we saw was Площадь Ленина, or Lenin’s Square (not to be confused with the Red Line metro stop in St. Petersburg). There was the obligatory statue of Lenin surveying the square. I love it when statues of Lenin are placed in odd, modern situations. I don’t think the Soviet sculptors or planners envisioned the statue overlooking a skate park. What’s of interest to me is that this weekend UAZ (one of the vehicle factories in Ulyanovsk) will be celebrating some sort of anniversary. There will be plenty of examples of their cars at Площадь Ленина and I can’t wait to see them all and take tons of photos.

Lenin and Skating?


On one side of the street in the center of the city are many historical buildings from the city that are hundreds of years old. They are painted in bright colors, similar to some of the buildings in St. Petersburg. Thankfully, on the other side of the street there was a large mural of Socialist Realism. While I love historical architecture, I get a kick out of Socialist Realism. I expected the home city of Lenin to have more of it.

Building a bright socialist future is important.

Today, when I was walking back to my room after classes, I saw a man riding a horse across the campus. Sorry for the blurry picture, but that’s all I could get quickly. Sadly, no one ever rode a horse across the Lafayette campus, at least that I’m aware of.

One horsepower. Faster than a Trabbi? Probably. Definitely safer.

Here’s another fun photo. The sign on the building is basically drawing attention to the sports area of the campus. I don’t know how well it will show up in this blog, but the picture of the hurdler is what drew my attention. The hurdle is labeled “Lewis and Clark.”

Lewis and Clark Track and Field in Russia?

Another funny thing from the university comes from my department. I’m the first native English speaker to work with the department; however, they recently had two German speakers. One, Konrad, was an Austrian probably around my age. He basically did what I am doing, but with German. The other Herr Baumann, or Господин Бауман as he is known in Russian, was an older man from Germany who came to instruct German for some period of time. Herr Baumann was somewhat unpopular due to some of his teaching methods. Apparently, when he left, he did not both to clean out his desk, which is now mine. Inside the desk we found the following book, which loosely translates to “The Russian Speaking Etiquette.”

Now I'll know how to speak politely.

The book is from 1981 and is full of wonderful examples and exercises. For example, this one tells the reader how to address comrades, friends, and citizens.

Friends, Citizens, Comrades, lend me your ears!

This exercise prompts the reader to give compliments for the figures in the photographs (I’m assuming in Russian, but the directions are in German, so who knows).

I'm not really big on giving compliments to people in yellow suits.

The Interwebs, I has you!

Posted: September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

Wonderful news, I now have the internet and a semi-functioning computer in my room. Long story short, my computer screen is still broken. The bad news is that my computer cannot be fixed in Russia (and boy did we try), but the good news is that the screen works if I turn the computer upside down and then upright again. Sometimes the light behind the screen goes out and I repeat the process and have a useable computer again.

Ye Olde dorm room

Life at the university is progressing well. I have a schedule and I’ll be working with students from the 1st through 5th years. For 1st through 3rd year students, I will assist in conversation and pronunciation. For the 4th and 5th year students, I will be leading a class on American cultural studies. This may or may not end badly, as I know so much about American history and politics – somehow I made it through the American educational system without ever taking a class on American politics/government and the last US history course I took was AP during my junior year of high school. I guess wikipedia is going to be my best friend. I guess it will be a learning experience for us all. Hopefully soon I will also find out my schedule for taking Russian. I received a second grant from Fulbright, called a CLEA (Critical Language Enhancement Award), which requires me to take a minimum of ten hours a week of Russian.

A view of the main academic building

The linguistics department is simply awesome. One of the German professors only speaks to me in German, because I don’t want to forget it. This morning, she invited me to her fifth year German class to discuss the topic of foreigners in Germany, a subject that we briefly touched upon in German class at Lafayette. It was quite interesting, but I found it a little difficult to switch from Russian to German. It was also funny to hear German grammar explained in Russian. This particular German professor also invited me to a few of her other German classes later this week. The head of the linguistics department also told me that they have an old TV that they can let me use in my dorm room. They’re trying to find someone to carry it over for me. I’m excited because then I can watch all the Russian TV I have time for. Currently, the Russian students all laugh when I tell them that I like to watch the Russian remakes of American shows (such as Married With Children/Счастливы Вместе) and especially so when I announce Папины Дочки (Daddy’s Daughters). The latter is an original Russian sitcom, though now borderline soap-opera that I watched with my host mother in St. Petersburg. Normally, I wouldn’t watch a show of its type, but it’s easy for me to understand. For Russian speakers, or those curious, here’s one of the best episodes (Masha acts in a movie about Fascist Germany and Dasha tries to get out of gym class with Vennik’s help).

The adventure of today was getting the internet in my dorm room. Like a standard dorm, there is an Ethernet cable in my room. To get the internet turned on, I had to go to the center of the city to the ISP’s office. There, they took a bunch of information from my passport and charged me a start-up fee and then a fee for the first month. The price isn’t bad at all, and the plan I purchased has a faster connection than I get at home, and that was the second slowest option. Thankfully, one of my friends from the dorm took me into the city and helped me find the ISP office. Misha, from Moldova, was a supreme gentleman. Unfortunately, on the way back, we had to wait about thirty minutes for the маршрутка (basically a cross between a taxi and a bus – they are usually yellow vans that follow a route, but they can make small deviations if you ask them). While standing at the intersection of Karl Marx Street (clearly all the best cities have Karl Marx streets) and some other road, I watched all the cars go by. The majority of them were Russian, I even saw a first series Lada Zhiguli from the late 1960s. Out of the foreign cars, two caught my eye. One was a 2000 something G-Klasse Mercedes in the requisite black. The other car was a 1980, or so, Mercedes 240D in the wonderful dark green that Mercedes discontinued in the mid-1980s. There’s nothing like the clatter of a naturally aspirated, four cylinder, diesel Mercedes engine to make me happy. I’m pretty sure that the car had a for sale sign on the back of it. I guess it’s better that it drove off before I could read the details of the sign because a manual 240D is number two on the list of Mercedes that I want to acquire (and could actually afford as opposed to a 1956 300SL or a G-Klasse) behind a 1986-1989 560SL.

I like the photo below from Moscow. There’s a 2000 something G-Klasse, a 2005-2008 E-Klasse, and a 2008 or newer S-Klasse with one of those blue lights on top that lets the driver do pretty much anything they want. The days of the Chaika and ZIL might be over, but the current Russian ruling class has continued to use some of the privileges associated with a fancy automobiles that was ever-present in the Soviet era (if you want to know more about this, read my thesis).

A trio of Mercedes in Moscow