Sunday, October 19, 2008

To Tomsk & Back 10/119/08

To Tomsk & Back 

Weather Report: SNOW, lots of it.
Temp 0.3 c that's 32.4 f
Winds 1-2 mph from north

We just returned from an exchange trip to Tomsk to inspect apartments, monitor the branch, check out their new building, see the town, and visit the Bowdens. Mostly the latter.

We left Friday morning after Elder Bowden and I went to the office to finish some last-minute work, fax the monthly reports, and get a case of the FEP manuals in Russian for the Bowdens to use in their Humanitarian assignment. They will be offering the program to NGO's (non-government agencies) and government departments to serve their family clients.

We were picked up at the office, taken to our apartment, loaded the sisters and the luggage, went to the Palace where the office elders live, picked up the bus tickets they bought Thursday night after English Club, and headed to the bus depot. Novo's bus station is in deep renovation and is a little primitive right now. You wait for your bus next to numbered signs that serve as loading gates. The picture at right is of the type of bus we rode for 5+ hours north to Tomsk. I took this picture at the "comfort stop" that's 2 1/2 hours from Novo and 2 hours from Tomsk.

The bus holds about 40 passengers and rides like the back of a pickup. It took a road north out of Novosibirsk and stayed on the east side of the river, taking about an hour to get out of Novo and into the countryside. About another hour out of Novo the road began to get quite rough, forcing the driver to slow a bit. Fortunately the pot holes were filled in during the summer so they produced humps instead of dips in the road, but it was just as rough.

About 2 hours out of Novo the road forks. The right fork goes to Kemerovo where we have a Branch and 4 missionaries, and the left fork goes to Tomsk where we also have a Branch, 4 elders, and a senior couple; both about the same distance from this fork.

Another half hour and we made a "comfort stop". All of the buses stop here where there are two important facilities. On the north side of the road, the side we stopped on, is a convenience store and very limited cafeteria with two tables and four chairs. On the other side of the road is a building with a sign in 2 foot letters "TOILET" spelled in Russian, but it sounds the same; not too subtle. You are charged 10 rubles (about 40 cents) to use the facility and you can also buy some liquor and cigarettes while you wait for a seat. Pretty good business, I'd say.

Another 2 hours and we're in Tomsk, a city of nearly 500 thousand, about 100 thousand of which are students at the many universities and colleges there. We took a taxi to the Bowden's apartment and that was a definite "E" ticket ride. These guys drive 120 kilometers per hour (I looked at the speedometer) down city streets with 4 lanes of traffic, cars turning left at intersections, and very narrow streets. When the driver strapped on his seat belt, that was my clue to do the same. I kept asking advice from the back seat as to whether I should take off my glasses (or close my eyes) when the air-bag deployed. I didn't want them a permanent part of my face.

We had a bite to eat and then went to English Club at the church.With one companionship missing from town (visa trips) they needed our help because the Elders cannot split up into different rooms; the sight and sound rule. I was temporary "companion" to Elder Bowden (young elder, pronounced Boden as opposed to senior Elder Bowden pronounced Bauwden) and Sister Simmons went with Elder Pettit. The Bowdens had the third group that was the most advanced; conversational English.

These meetings cannot be called "classes" because in Russia one cannot "teach" anything unless one is licensed as a teacher. We have been challenged in several cities about these clubs and so far the distinction has held. We hold club meetings where people can come and practice their English. We do not "Teach" English.

Saturday we went on a tour of the city using the public transportation system that was very effective. Most of the passengers were young people, probably students, and they readily gave up their seats for the "Babushki". We found them to be friendly, respectful, and curious. Sister Cindy got a lot of smiles with her "I Love Novosibirsk" tote bag. We started up conversations with many of them, but the older passengers just ignored us.

The system of paying is interesting. You pay when you exit. The fare is usually 9 rubles, which calls for a ruble in change on each trip. You can ride all day as long as you don't get off, but you must pay to exit. When the bus is crowded, you pass your money up via the passengers and your change gets returned the same route. On one bus, a girl about 9 was the money taker. I suspect that her papa was the drive.

A word about higher education as explained by a member student. If you pass the entry examination, you are set on a track depending on your performance on the exams. The universities are for those who score highest in math, science, language, and economics. The others who pass, but with lower scores, are assigned to colleges which are separate from the universities. These are technical schools, much like our vocational schools where one learns specific skills like medical assistant, computer programming, and aircraft mechanic. The universities are for more theoretical studies and advanced training such as medicine, physics, chemistry, mathematics, language, etc. The state universities are free, the state colleges are also free, but the private schools have tuition with some scholarships available.

This (above) is the gate to the Tomsk State University. It shows a date of 1883 which I presume is its founding. There are many buildings that we pass in town belonging to the various Universities. This is one of the doors to the Engineering school. It is quite impressive.

The Church's Seminary and Institute (CES) department has what they call the Outreach Center located just off campus where member students can come to study, bring investigators, or just hangout. It is in a building with rooms that other organizations also rent and is actually quite nice. This is the TV area set off by partitions in the 40 by 60 foot room that can also be used as an Institute facility. President Mickelsen says the S&I department will likely close it after the first of the year because they have no senior missionaries to operate an institute program. Fred & Jacque, any interest?

We traveled all over town in the buses and walked a good deal too. One of our first stops was a big Renek where we shopped for hats and gloves. Here I talked to a man about a shopka and he explained that there are many styles and firs for shopkas, but I was not interested in a 7,000 ruble mink "hat". They say that most of the fir shopkas have the same warmth, but the fir choice is a matter of style. I have to admit that the mink hats are better looking, and the fox one the stall-keeper was wearing was tempting, but this guy sold me a marmot hat that matched my collar for 1,500 rubles (with a 400 ruble discount) and I couldn't pass up the bargain.

I have to admit that I love hats, but I look absolutely comical in a hat of any kind and I just shun them. Everyone here wears a hat for warmth, not just style. This is proven by the number of Russian men who also should go bare-headed, but still wear the headgear for warmth. My hat served me well during the day, but everyone KNEW that I was not Russian. How did they guess?

We also got Sister Cindy a winter hat. As you may know, Barbara Bush was known as the Gray Fox. Sister Cindy is now known as the "Snow Fox" because that is what her hat is made of. It has two white balls tied to white ribbons on the top that swing and bob as she walks. She's not sure she's going to wear it, but I think when the temperature gets below freezing, that hat is going to get some use. She says she looks like a snow ball, not an Arctic Snow Fox. Well, maybe so, but she looks good to me.

Around noon we ate at a food court (4 stalls) above a basement market, shopped at their version of Home Depot, and finally ended up at the Tomsk Branch about 5 pm just before Game Night that they hold each Saturday night at 6 pm. This is one of two buildings that the Church has build from scratch rather than remodel a rental. It is a functional, modern building that still fits into the general architecture of the city. I want to stop here and continue a discussion about the buildings and living conditions in another posting.

To close, I'll mention that we went to Sacrament meeting on Sunday and caught the bus at 12:10 pm back to Novo. The Bowdens made sure we got on the right bus and generally took very good care of us. We are not adventurers by nature (at least one of us is not) so it was nice to have the escort while we were there. The missionaries also served as our translators and did a great job. The Bowdens are a happy couple that with whom we enjoy spending time. Too bad we are not in the same city, but President Mickelsen is spreading the senior couples around to support the missionaries, not to socialize with each other; as it should be.

Our trip home followed the same road and was pretty uneventful, but we had a larger bus and the ride was more comfortable. It was snowing when we left Tomsk and it got more intense as we traveled. The countryside is looking like winter, but I know this is just fall because there are still cabbages in the Dacha gardens, but the rest of the harvest is all in and it looks like people are settled in for the duration.

It is a bleak scene out the window as we pass the empty fields with their hay stacks looking like snow-dusted woolly mammoths and thick patches of White Birch forest. I can't help but wonder how the people in the villages get along in the Siberian winter. I remember "A Train To Potevka" and the scene he painted in that book. I think that we are going to live it to a certain extent.

What a country.


Amy B. said...

Hi, I am Elder and Sister Bowdens
daughter-in-law. I enjoy reading your blog. I got such a good picture of where they are living thanks for posting the great pictures. I will be checking in again. Thank you, Amy Bowden

Shannon Simmons said...

Mom - you look lovely in your hat! (seriously!!!) and dad, you look quite nice too - i dont think you give yourself enough credit for how you look in a & function...good work!!!!