Were you a young pioneer?

Posted: October 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

A few days ago, I had my first lessons on the history of the United States. For my first year students, I had to speak about George Washington. After a lesson about George Washington and the Washington Monument, one of their tasks was to talk about Russia’s equivalent. The class decided that there are a few figures in Russian history who have a similar status to George Washington. The first person the students mentioned was Vladimir Lenin. Since Ulyanovsk was the birthplace of Lenin, I was not surprised by this answer. He was the hero of their revolution and helped to form and lead their government. When discussing pre-Soviet history, the students seemed to think that Peter the Great had a similar role in the development of Russia as Washington did to America. As I know more about Russian history than American and since I am far more interested in Russian history, I asked leading questions to center the discussion about Russian history. I started to ask the students about various famous pre-Pertine Russian rulers from Prince Vladimir to Ivan III. When I mentioned Ivan III, a few students caught on to my hints and discussed Russians famous for defending the country from foreign threats in that general time period. I was hoping for a discussion based around Ivan III, Dmitri Donskoi, and Alexander Nevsky. I got the discussion that I had hoped for, plus a funny moment. One girl misspoke and said, “Alexander Donskoi.” The whole class laughed and then she said, “Russia’s version of George Washington was Alexander Donskoi III.”

Today, I went on a bit of an excursion with one of my students from the 5th year. She, as well as one of the other teachers from the private language school in the center of the city, lives on the other side of the Volga. The city of Ulyanovsk is almost like two cities put together. The city was founded on my side of the Volga. In the early 1910s, a railroad bridge was built across the Volga, which allowed for the city to expand. The city really expanded on the other side of the Volga in the 1950s, mostly due to the construction of a factory that produces airplanes.

Some people like impressionism or cubism, others like socialist realism.

Traveling to the other side of the city is rather a chore. Without traffic, it takes one hour to get from the university to the last stop on the other side, where I met my student Yulia. We waited for a few minutes and then we were joined by another teacher from the language school, Lana. We went to Lana’s apartment for a few minutes and then headed off to a beautiful park, Парк 40 лет ВЛКСМ (Всесоюзный Ленинский Коммунистический Союз Молодёжи, please excuse me for not bothering to decline the name of the park) or Park in the name of 40 years of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League.

My companions are around my age and didn’t know what ВЛКСМ meant. As we walked through the park, we found some babushki and asked them. At first, they didn’t remember what it stood for either. Then, one thought for a while and told us what she thought the letters stood for. Upon doing some internet research, she was close, but not quite right. She then asked my companions if they were in any of the Soviet youth groups such as the Young Pioneers, which they were not. She then proudly listed all of the groups of which she was a part when she was young. The park was a beautiful forest, but after a fifteen minute walk, became a beach on the Volga. It was fun to go from two extremes of distinct nature.

I could see my university from here.

After our trip to the park, Yulia insisted that I try Russian McDonald’s. I had ventured to McDonald’s in St. Petersburg before, primarily to use the internet. I am not a fan of McDonald’s and would rather eat juts about anywhere else if given the opportunity. I conceded, though. My only comment is that a McChicken is a McChicken no matter where you are. I am, however, a fan of Coca-Cola in Russia because they use real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. What I could really go for right now is a Mezzo-mix, which I think might only be sold in Germany. That’s Coca-Cola with orange flavoring in it.

Post-lunch, we wandered around the streets of the “new city” (the name for this part of Ulyanovsk) a while longer before we parted ways and I rode the hour back to the university. I cannot understand how people can live on the other side of the Volga and commute to the university. I was told that an hour is a short ride. The public transportation can only travel on the old bridge, which is one lane in each direction. Traffic jams are common and rides are more often around two hours, but sometimes can last much longer when the weather is extremely bad or when there are accidents on the road.

The final development of my life concerns martial arts. The other night, I heard noises coming from the lobby of my floor. I opened the door to find two guys boxing with a crowd of other guys looking on. After the fight was over, I asked if I could put on the gloves and fight a little with them. The guy I fought with didn’t want to hit me back and said I could try some Tae Kwon Do with him because I don’t really know how to box. I threw a couple of quick kicks and the crowd of guys all cheered on in awe. Our fight ceased when one of the babushki asked why we were making noise around 11:00PM, aka the start of quiet hours. I had a great time fighting him. He was pretty good at dodging my kicks, but I landed a few solid sidekicks on him. Hopefully I can convince him to fight with me again, but to hit back a little this time. The other good news concerns me fighting without equipment aside from boxing gloves. The last time I did that I bruised my ankle really badly. Nothing says, “I was really stupid” like an ankle that’s purple and twice its normal size. Granted, equipment doesn’t always make things better. It’s taken about a year for my foot to heal from kicking someone in the elbow (*cough cough Georgi cough cough*). The bump on top of the bone is gone, and it stopped getting squishy after I kicked things sometime this summer. Clearly I have a hard time learning from my mistakes.

Finally, I was introduced to a girl in the 10th class (the equivalent of 10th grade). We were talking and it turns out that she also does Tae Kwon Do. She went to practice after we met and her coach said that I could train with her group. I’m excitedly awaiting the details about that. I don’t think I could make it through the year without some form of martial arts.

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