Thursday, December 24, 2009

Minus 33 on 12-23-09

Minus 33 on 12-23-09
Temp--minus 33 F (-36 C) Wind--calm

Some interesting things begin to happen at -33.
First, it is just plain very cold. Anything metal is off-limits. Do not touch metal poles, doors, railings, etc. that have been out in the open for more than a few hours. Definitely do not touch your tongue to a flagpole.

Second, people change their habits out in the open. Most will wear a scarf across the face because breathing air this cold can be damaging to your lungs. It creates a condition similar to emphysema from damaged tissue that is not repaired. They look like a gang of bandits briskly moving down the snow-encrusted sidewalks and roads.

Wearing a scarf across your face does have some interesting side effects other than your being mistaken for a robber. Under normal circumstances your breath would go right through the scarf and leave nothing. At -33, the moisture in your breath freezes on the outside of the scarf and it soon smells like whatever you had for breakfast. By the time you get home at the end of the day, your scarf needs a good cleaning and you put a package of mints in your pocket for tomorrow.

Those who do not wish to pollute a good scarf will stand or walk with a hand over the face. This provides the same protection without the stained scarf. Many of the 20-something generation are very style conscious and will choose this method to preserve the wardrobe.

Windows display some peculiar behaviors as well. At higher temperatures, any moisture in the house, car, or office may fog the windows, but will soon disappear in this very dry climate, the ambient humidity being in the low 20's. At -33, any moisture in the room seeks out a cold window and immediately becomes ice, requiring a credit card or other scrapping device to remove it. Even the inside of double-pane windows will become ice machines. Also, the rubber gaskets around the more modern vinyl window frames become rigid and will not seal properly at this temperature, letting in rather frosty air, even in the absence of wind.

Other interesting things include diesel and gasoline that become thick and sluggish, car exhaust that hangs close to the ground and makes artificial fog on busy streets, spit that freezes in midair (if it is not too thick), fingers that burn like fire after only a minute or two exposure, everything flexible becomes ridged and brittle, the puppies stop cavorting in the construction yard across the street, you wear your coat inside the supermarket, smoker are more nervous with fewer cigarette breaks at work, "cold cash" takes on new meaning at an ATM on the street, and the METRO becomes a haven for sensible people.

Cold seeks heat like a bee seeks nectar or a frog seeks water. It will press into every crevice and crack, unaided by wind. It is like the night monsters trying to find a way into your room. Cold is relentless and brutal. It will suck the heat out of your ears, your nose, your eyes, your nostrils, fingers, even your very breath. It is always grasping, clawing to get at you and when it does, danger lurks. Frostbite is a real danger here at these temperatures and should not be treated casually. Cold is a killer that Siberians dance with all winter, needing to stay in contact, but skillfully twirling away into some warm spot to break its icee embrace for a moment and then resuming the dance as they move on.

Yep, -33 is downright cold as Elder Brock Peterson shows here, but it probably won't be the record low for the year. It is only a matter of time when -40 will hang on for weeks in February. Stay tuned. I have run out of excuses to leave the mission in February, the coldest month of the year. Here Elder Peterson shows the result of breath moisture freezing on your hood, hat, and mask at -35 in Snigeiri, near Novo.

What a frozen country .

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A "Cultural Event"? 12/20/09

A "Cultural Event"?
Weather -- snowing steadily for the past 4 hours
Temp -8 F Wind - Calm

Last Saturday night our zone went to the hockey game featuring a preliminary-league championship match between the Novosibirsk team and another city team (I never found out what city). This was for a place in the semi-finals. We traveled by taxi with Sasha and Lena Ozherelev to save Sister Simmons ears from the cold. (Oh, and the fact that she didn't want to walk about 1 1/2 miles from the end of the Metro.)
Sasha warned us about rowdy people and big crowds, but I have seen more drunks and rowdy people at the Pig Bowl in Sacramento, a football game between the Sacramento Police and Sheriff Departments, than at this game. It actually was very normal, sort of like an NBA game on ice. There was only one injury, caused by a hard "check" into the boards and a short shoving match that was quickly broken up by the referees.

The game started like your standard NBA or NFL game with the National Anthem. Just like shouting "Play Ball", they shouted something at the end and the game was on. We (Sister Cindy and I) actually enjoyed the game although the only part I really understood was when a goal was made and everyone stood up and cheered. Actually, I guess I didn't understand that either because I missed a goal scored by the other team. After we (now that I'm a fan it's "we") scored a second goal I looked at the scoreboard above the dancing girls (whom I didn't actually look at of course), saw the score was 2 to 1, and asked when the other team had scored. Sasha said that no one supports the other team so it went unnoticed.

To me it was like Tennessee Ernie Ford's attempt to describe his first football game (you had to have been there). They skated up and down the ice, batting the puck around, knocking one another down occasionally, and generally wearing themselves out for several minutes and then the referee would blow his whistle, everyone stopped what they were doing and they started the game again at one of the little circles painted on the ice.

One time, something wrong happened, everyone had to leave the ice, and one of our guys (notice the possessive) got to shoot at the goal all alone without any opposition. I guess that's like a free throw in basketball except the hoop doesn't have a goalie. Anyway, he missed and the crowd whistled. I'd have thought they would be upset, but they all whistled and cheered him. Boy, that was confusing to me!

The stadium was full of uniformed security and military personnel, presumably to keep order. I was surprised to see soldiers stationed around the railings looking appropriately stern and professional, although most of them were under twenty and weighed less than 150 lbs. I have never seen so many skinny soldiers in my life. Together with the 50 or so police, they kept the lid on things quite well.

We saw a lot of families at the game and many with young children. One set of grandparents in front of us had a girl about 7 and a boy about 9 with them. The grandmother was always fixing the hair decorations of the granddaughter and the grampa was frequently headed to the snack bar for some more food. I tried to get a good picture of their family, but I could never catch the kids still enough to get them in focus.

They sold the usual "spirit" stuff for our team in the snack bar area like the usual banners, noise-makers, hats, number 1 fingers, viking helmets (I guess that's our mascot) and neck scarves (very practical) that were waved like banners when we did something good.

All-in-all, I thought it was a great "cultural event" and a lot more interesting than Swan Lake for the 5th time. I would like to see that Folkloric show we saw last year. The singing, dancing, singing, dancing, and singing were really terrific and very Russian. I hope to be spared another episode of Swan Lake for the next four months.

What a country.

PS--We won 2-1.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"SHOW-TIME", The Novosibirsk District Holiday Concert & Open House 12/1/09

"SHOW-TIME", The Novosibirsk District Holiday Concert & Open House 12/1/09
Weather -- Snowing, Overcast
Temp -- -14 F (-26 C) Wind -- 15-18 mph, gusts to 25mph

We have been preparing for the Holiday Concert and Open House for about 3 months, but the real push has been only during the past several weeks. I decided that since I was responsible for the whole idea that I had better make sure it was a success as far as I could make sure of anything here. I made the plans, Sister Cindy evaluated and suggested, we met with the district president and representatives from each branch to give them their assignments, followed-up, checked-up, and were there to manage it wall-to-wall. If I have to say so here myself, it was a big (not roaring) success and we both feel satisfied that it was the best it could have been. Here is our accompanist Anya (next to me) and a choir member Yulia.

The concert part included four choir numbers, a children's chorus, a missionary trio, a 10 minute skit done in poetry (written by Brat Konanov of 2nd Branch), a missionary choir, and The Nativity (Luke II) video. Each act was preceded by Elder Wilson reading verses from Luke and Matthew.

The choir opened the show, after the introduction by President Nikolaichev and prayer by the District Relief Society President, by singing Joy To The World and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. The children's chorus, led by Lena Ozherelev, sang Mary's Lullaby (very cute). The missionary trio of Elder Rainsdon, Elder Hinkson, and Elder Byers sang Away in a Manger, the choir sang Night of Silence / Silent Night and What Child is This. After the skit the missionaries all sang O Holy Night.

By 6:50 we had about 12 people in the audience and I was a little concerned. We had split 200 invitations among the 4 branches and given 50 to each companionship in town and announced it for two Sundays.  I had stopped rehearsing the choir and was doing last minute things, but by 7:05 every one of the 100 chairs were filled and people were standing. They must have all come on the same Metro train. The final count was 125 with about 25 or so non-members and investigators.

Before the concert, the Sunday School room was set up for the reception and refreshments supplied by the 4th Branch Relief Society. In one corner was the Family Enrichment/Strengthening Families display, and in the other corner was the missionary table with English Club, Book of Mormon, and Questions about the Church displays. In the center of the opposite wall was Sister Gushchina's Family History Center open for people to see. Each display was very popular with the visitors. We also had displays in the auxiliary meeting rooms, Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women. They were all well done and attractive.

The concert ended about 8:00 and people seemed at least satisfied with it, some quite excited in fact. I got a couple of vigorous handshakes and "большая работаc" "bolshoya rabotas" (great works), a few "Молодцыc""molodyets" (well dones), and a bunch of "Спасибоc" "spacibas" (thank yous).  Singers and performers were congratulating one another and generally most felt good about the evening. President and Sister Trejo thanked me and I think they were pleased as well.

For me the Open House was as much or more of a success. People traveled the rooms and saw the displays. Each was unique and entertaining. The Relief Society had out their quilts and books, the Primary had an on-going demonstration of things they do in primary with songs and games, the Young Women had a power-point presentation and clips from past youth conferences, punctuated with popcorn and balloons. The missionary and FEP corners were thick with visitors and the Family History Center was always active.

Of the investigators who came, we saw many of the ones who have come to our home over the past month. Anna, Dema and Olga, Alexe, Gnade were among them and we heard tonight that Anna and Dema have set baptism dates. We hope that others will materialize. We also met the Drachyov's relatives who are not members as well as friends of the investigators who came.

The cultural lesson for me was the refreshment table. In the US, my experience is that people will go to the refreshment table, take something and move away to another location. Last night was an eye opener. The refreshments consisted of an abundance of store-bought confections and "juice". I put quotes around the juice because here, unless you buy "100% sok", it is 20-40% juice and the rest sugar and water. I have never been to an event where they served punch as we know it, but most juices are its equivalent.

Once it was known that the two tables in the center of the room were for the refreshments, people began staking out a position at the table. As the food and juice began to arrive, it was "Katie bar the door" and "Every man for himself". It was like the Walmart bargain table the day after Thanksgiving; arms, hands, hips, elbows, everything was a lever, I saw one small child duck down, squeeze between two portly sisters, and pop up next to the table where he grabbed several cookies and, reversing his path before getting crushed, emerged with his trophies. It was amazing.

The post-concert Open House was a great success (bordering on roaring) and people stayed on until about 9:10 when it seemed that the same Metro train was about to leave and people began rushing for the coat room. It was a mass dressing of children and I don't know how they managed to get the right clothes on the right kids; gloves, hats, boots, scarves, coats, pants, all in heaps with mothers trying to grab the kid with one hand and pulling on the article with the other.

As Sister Simmons and I stood in the hall, after being ushered out of the reception room by the cleaning crew who wanted to join the exodus, we thanked, hugged, and generally bid the last of them farewell. It was a great evening and we hope it results in at least good will if not new members.

What a Country

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Our Friend Bert Has Gone Home 12/5/09

Our Friend Bert Has Gone Home  12/5/09
Weather -- still overcast
Temp -- 20 F (heading to 12 F by tomorrow) Wind -- calm

Our friend Bert Coop died Friday, December 4, 2009 at 2:40 pm in his home after several years battling the cancer that finally took his life. We have known Bert and Bonnie Coop for over 30 years, we grew-up our kids together, were in the same ward as young parents, separated with the splitting of the ward, then back again recently with a realignment of the boundaries.

When we left for our mission, Bert said that he probably would not be here when we returned. We hoped  that was an over-statement, but it has turned out to be quite accurate. The death of a friend changes the landscape dramatically and Bert's death will surely do that for us. We will continue to love and include Bonnie and will do all we can to remind her of our love and friendship.  Sister Cindy said that we should call them on SKYPE a couple of days ago and we talked to Bonnie and then to Bert for a minute or two; good choice by Sister Cindy.

Bert was, no, is, a complex fellow like most of us. He brought his family to Sacramento to work as a pediatrician at Kaiser and worked there until taking an early retirement a few years ago, showing himself to be a combination of a compassionate, caring doctor; a bit of a shy person with strangers; and an outgoing, boisterous friend. He wasn't above stretching a story about himself, but would be serious and interested if you wanted to talk of important things. He was a lover of the arts, especially painting, and loved to perform with his good tenor voice. We asked him to paint something for us like one of our favorite pictures he had in his home. We asked him to paint one for us and he did, but we liked the original better. He liked the new one so he agreed to give us the original one and kept the new one for himself. We insisted on buying the painting and, after refusing the payment he reluctantly accepted the money, saying that it wasn't that good. We love it and it now hangs above our bed.

We have been on several trips with Bert and Bonnie, one of them around the end of South America. We all enjoyed the karaoke nights and Bert was really in his element. We sang a duet of the Everly Brothers "Dream", he sang solos, and with the group of guys, The HOTS, sang"The Lion Sleeps Tonight". That was a fun time.

In his later years he took up painting and got very good at it. He always said the one you liked was not very good, but I know he was pleased at the compliment. He also joined several choirs so that he could enjoy making music with others. I sang with him several times in a group for something at church and he sang in the ward choir while I conducted. I asked him to be the president of the choir and I think he enjoyed that. He also joined the American River Junior College A Cappella choir just for the love of singing. This was during his chemotherapy time and he often had to wear a ball cap to cover his thinning hair. He loved to sing and took every opportunity to perform.

Being away from home has its own challenges, and being away when your friends are hurting makes it all the more difficult. We know that we are in the right place doing what God has both assigned to us to do and allowed us to do, but our hearts yearn to be there with Bonnie at this difficult time. I guess there will be time enough for that when we return and all of the others have helped her through the first months.

What a time. What a country

The Garbage Man 12/3/09

The Garbage Man 12/3/09
Weather -- Heavy clouds; blowing snow
Temp -- 24 F (12 C) Wind -- Of course, Strong from the west about 30 mph

First, Thanks to those who commented on the last few postings. Carol, I love Sister Gneiting and I know you well enough to appreciate your comments. Your daughter talks about you very positively and thinks you are a great mom. Thanks for the comments.

Second, Shannon, I missed you on the comments, but I'm sure the new job is taking a toll on your computer time. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I love you.

Now, about the garbage man. As a child, I was always impressed by the garbage man with his big truck and his big container that he carried into our back yard to dump our trash cans into. He could carry two trashcans full of garbage in one big container and carry it out to the truck. He must have been the strongest man in the world.
And the truck; that was amazing. It had this big place on the back where he'd dump his big container and then he'd pull a handle and the motor would roar and the big lid would come down and crush the garbage into the belly of the truck, leaving the hopper free to receive another big load of trash. What a thrill. I used to imagine what it would be like to be pushed by that big lid into the belly of that great monster truck like Jonah in the whale.

What was even more impressive was that he could ride on the back of the truck, standing on a little platform and holding on to a handle. That was very cool to a child who wasn't even allowed to stick his head out of the car window and feel the wind, let alone ride on the running board. Oh yes, most of you have no idea what a running board is. Google it.

Well, we used to have a similar system for our building, like most of these buildings, and it involved a big truck that came at 2:00 AM every night. But instead of a big man with a big barrel, with a big noisy truck, the truck had arms that came out and picked up the 4' x 4' x 5' tall square metal containers, lifted them up, and dumped them into the center of the truck's top. Then the motor would race as the packer ram would cram the trash into the belly of the truck just like in my childhood. Sometimes we would be late to bed and I got to see the whole operation from our 9th floor bedroom window at the stroke of 2 am.

Someone who works in some government office has devised, or at least has bought, a new, much more efficient and improved, process that has done away with the 2 am guy driving alone through the streets of Novosibirsk picking up these old, somewhat beat-up trashcans.

Now and we have a daytime pickup that comes sometime in the morning, usually before 10 am. I call it the two-guy clam-shell process and it has revolutionized the trash pickup process.

First, instead of that old packer truck we have an old flat-bed truck with a crane arm. This planner guy has single-handedly doubled the garbage dumpster worker rolls with a two man operation. Gone are the days of lonely garbage  truck drivers wending their way among the housing projects all alone. Now each truck has two operators with distinctively different jobs and probably a class distinction.

I suspect that the truck-guy who drives and operates the crane arm is on a higher level than the packer guy who moves the chains from the center of the container to the corners to open the clam-shell bin and dump the trash. He also gets to jump up and down on the trash to pack it down, sort of like the old truck but much quieter.

It is kind of odd that this new system requires the packer to put appliance boxes along the walls of the truck to get more in before they go to dump it. I wonder if he gets appliance boxes from the trash each day or whether he saves them from day to day.

After the packer sets his boxes and jumps on the trash, he climbs down off the truck and hooks the chains to the rings located in the center of the container. At the packer's signal, the truck guy lifts the container into the truck bed. Then the packer climbs back onto the truck and relocates the hooks to the four corners of the box. At another signal, the truck guy raises the crane and the edges of the box are lifted up, opening the clam-shell and dumping the trash into the truck. This is so efficient that it is unlikely that one guy thought of this process. It must have been a committee.

After the "dump" is complete, the truck guy swings the container back onto the container's pad. The packer jumps down onto the pad and relocates the chains to the center rings and at yet another signal to the truck guy the container is closed and set squarely on the pad. This is the most critical move because a crooked container could cause all sorts of mayhem, but I think their current philosophy is any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

Well, that's it about the garbage man (men) and their new procedure. I can't help thinking about a movie about a Russian nuclear submarine that sank in the Baltic some years ago, I think the movie was named "The Widow Maker". The part I am remembering is that the engineer who had to shut down the reactor found that instead of having a radiation suit in the ship's supplies they had a chemical contamination suit because the supply department didn't have a radiation suit in stock to give them.

This garbage process exposes the packer to whatever is in the trash all day long (needles, used toilet tissue, rotten food, etc.) and then he brings it home to his family. I cannot believe no one thought about the contamination risk to someone handling and jumping on the trash all day. I guess it was just not considered significant; another part of life here.

What a country

To Jason, Carol, and you other Parents 12/5/09

To Jason, Carol, and you other Parents 12/5/09
Weather --  Heavy overcast
Temp -- 26 F Wind -- 8-10 mph

Welcome aboard Jason.  Thanks for your comment. If you want to know more about the living conditions and experiences in our first few months here, I invite you to go back to some of the early posts. It was all more of a mystery then than it is now and I posted a lot about the daily routine and new experiences.

We are looking forward to all of our new missionaries and now I will have a connection with Elder Eborn. Sister Gneiting's mom, Carol, and many others follow the blog for the same reason; to get a look at what your missionary is experiencing, enduring, enjoying.

We love these missionaries and you as parents may be interested to know my observation about them. As a parent, I was always concerned how my "not too focused" child was going  to do, basically on his/her own, out in the mission. The three we sent out all came back older in many ways, more focused, and really nice people.

My observation is that their chronological self and their spiritual self shows become evident in different circumstances and the spiritual self is a great testimony as to how ancient and well prepared these spirits really are. In social situations with other missionaries, they are 19-20 year-olds without a doubt. In our city, the elders love to play Risk and do so at every opportunity. The sisters seem to gravitate to Jenga, an interesting, suspenseful game of stacking logs on a tower.  In their missionary work, in their teaching, in their mentoring of new members, in their district and zone meetings they are incredibly mature, sensitive, and discerning.

Your children are the best that their ancient spirits can manage with their young minds and I am continually impressed and touched by their ability to take on that maturity in spiritual matters. We still have to inspect their apartments and admonish them to keep things clean, report damage, pick up their socks, and all of the same things you harass them about at home, but in their missionary work they are all the best anyone could hope for in a missionary of any age.

We have senior couples in each city except two, but those young missionaries get regular visits from those close at hand. These senior couples are the guardians of what you have taught them at home, providing a little home cooking, and an emotional support when needed.

Your children, though they are definitely not children out here in Siberia, are well cared for, supervised, and supported by a loving president and his wife, the Trejos, by the various senior couples, and by the angels God has assigned to watch over them in Siberia.

Be strong. They are.

What a country.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Feeding the Nine 12/1/09

Feeding the Nine  12/1/09
Weather -- Heavy overcast
Temp -- -12 F
Wind --  Calm

This morning I caught some pictures of the "Puppy Lady" feeding the 9 puppies that live in the construction site across the street. She comes most mornings around 8-9:00 with something for them. They now come running out of the building when she comes and by the time I got my camera out, all I can see is a couple of them around her feet. You can just barely see them at her feet while the mom looks on from inside the fence.
Yesterday morning I saw 6 of them playing out in front of the gate near the driveway that separates this building from the industrial area next door. They were wrestling, jumping, chasing each other in anticipation of the "Puppy Lady's" arrival, but she never came that day.

Today, after the feeding, the "Puppy Lady" started down the street and  two of the puppies followed her.  She turned around and scolded them and with a "air-backhand" sent them scurrying back inside the fence.

I missed taking a picture of the actual orders to the puppies, but you can see her turned around toward them as the others inside begin to retreat into the building.

Here they are moving toward the gate again as she turned around and continued down the street.

On the way back they stopped, turned around to look at her and she again motioned for them to go home. They both continued back to the fence and into the safety of the building and their siblings.

Children are so easily trained if we are firm, but patient because they want to please and are looking for reinforcement. These puppies did as they were told and went home to await the advent of the "Puppy Lady" again tomorrow. God bless the babka (short for babushka, grandma).

What a country.

Feeling Alone 12/03/09

Feeling Alone 12/03/09
Weather--Overcast, occasional snow
Temp --  minus 6F
Wind 3-5 mph

I guess my friends have gotten bored with my blogs. I haven't gotten one comment on the last three posts and I check it daily to see if anyone read them.

Well, I guess maybe I have run out of interesting things to comment on around Novosibirsk. After 18 months, most things are pretty SOP ordinary by now. I can't help feeling a little lonely though with no exchange with my readers, but I understand that people are just busy with their lives and time is hard to find. Hey, are you still out there?

I have not sent many emails out because I used the blog to communicate with everyone and it is very different from an email. People feel some obligation to respond to an email, but a blog just sits there until someone comes to it and comments. I suppose that some people read and don't feel a need, or don't know how to comment. I guess I'll just have to start sending email broadcasts and see who rises to the bait. Although, I can't complain about over 800,000 hits on the blog over the last year and a half, I have a secret wish to hit 1,000,000 before next April 31. We'll see.

Paka' (familiar goodbye)

What a country