In Russia Tae Kwon Does You Part II: A Lesson in Russian Hospitality

Posted: November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yesterday was my third venture to Tae Kwon Do in Russia. Unfortunately, my schedule somewhat conflicts with me frequently going to Tae Kwon Do, but hopefully I can change that next semester. This was the first excellent class that I have had because I’m starting to get back into the swing of things. I nearly died during the first class and during the second class I couldn’t do much because I hadn’t properly stretched before and after the first class, resulting in really tight hamstrings. For a while after the second class, I thought I might have torn one of my hamstrings because it was incredibly painful to walk. Luckily, my schedule forced me to rest and it seems that no major damage was done. I have a bad habit of pushing injuries too far at Tae Kwon Do. Today I survived with only two popped blisters on my toes. One blister bled and another blood blister has formed on my other toe. I consider blood or bruises to be signs of a training session well done. As the Marines say, “pain is weakness leaving the body.”
At yesterday’s practice, I was the only female. Usually I am joined by my friend who introduced me to this Tae Kwon Do club, but she couldn’t make it. I’m proud of myself of successfully finding the gym on my own. The directions are pretty simple: take the 71 marshrutka to the avtozapchast stop. The people at the university told me that it was the second stop after crossing a bridge. I just waited until I saw the bridge and then asked the man next to me how far away from the stop we were. Thankfully, he was nice and told me to get off at the right place. The next stop is to cross six lanes of traffic (thankfully there’s a crosswalk and a median after the first three lanes), then you need to cross the tramvai tracks, and finally another two lanes of automotive traffic before you find yourself on the sidewalk. Then, you walk down a somewhat sketchy and dark sidewalk until you find an alley with aboveground pipes. Upon reaching this landmark, hang a left. The gym is a few doors down on the left.

The second, smaller gym. I'm more used to training in a space like this.

The real importance of today’s practice was a lesson in Russian hospitality. When the lesson was over, I asked the instructor, Natalia Vladimirovna, how much I should pay for the training. I was incredibly surprised when she said that she did not want any money from me. She told me that I’m a guest in Ulyanovsk and that money doesn’t matter. She also understands that I have a somewhat crazy teaching schedule, so it’s okay if I have difficulties attending class on a regular basis. After I thanked her profusely in Russian and Korean, she asked me where I lived and how I was getting home. I told her that I was taking the marshrurtka and she responded that she would drive me home tonight, which was incredibly nice and she lives in the exact opposite direction of the university. During the ride, Natalia Vladimirovna told me that she wants to practice her English with me because she travels a lot for Tae Kwon Do. I told her that we would work on English and that I would teacher her all of the Tae Kwon Do terminology in English if she taught me in Russian.

While riding home, she asked me about my family. I got the usual question of, “how did your parents feel about you going to Russia for a year?” As always, I respond that my parents are very happy that I’m here. Although we miss each other very much, they’re proud and supportive of my accomplishments. I also mentioned that my parents are planning on visiting in March, when my dad has spring break from his teaching duties. Natalia Vladimirovna was surprised that they want to come to Ulyanovsk. I told her that they have already been to Moscow and St. Petersburg, a few times each in the deep of the Soviet period and two years ago when I studied in St. Petersburg. They both really want to see a city other than the two capitals of Russia. Upon hearing this news, Natalia Vladimirovna told me that my family and I must come to her house as guests and that she will prepare a dinner for us. I’ve only met this woman three times and she’s already invited me and my family to her home. This just shows how generous Russians are. Although they seem cold at first, partly because they don’t greet or smile at strangers, they very quickly welcome you after making first contact. Russian hospitality has no rivals.

In a funny conclusion to this story, my ride home only took about ten minutes. This is not because Natalia Vladimirovna was driving quickly, it was quite the opposite actually. I was surprised at how cautious a driver she was given the way that Russians seem to usually drive (read: with flagrant disregard of posted speed limits and the laws of physics). When I take the marshrutka to or from this particular location, of which there is only one from my university that I can take, it takes half an hour to get to the proper stop. This is because the route for the 71 marshrutka seems to go through every single side street in the entire city.

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