Now I can’t fly all the way to Russia and not do a little souvenir shopping. Although I’ve been here 3 times before there are things I still would like to have. However, Derek did tell me he didn’t think a samovar would fit into my suitcase. I’m pretty sure he’s right, but if there had been one for me to purchase this afternoon I certainly would have weighed my options. True to form I did manage to purchase at least one breakable item.
This morning Galina collected me at 11:00. She had hired her friend, Sergei, to be our driver for the day. Sergei was such a good sport. We often wandered off and Galina had to call him to find us. At one point we wandered about 6 cars away from his and she called him. Sergei stood outside of the car and waved to us. We felt silly. Did I mention that my companion on this trip is a 73 year old woman who grew up in the Soviet Union? This isn’t to say she is anything less than a complete blessing in my life. She is getting old and she even says, “I’m tired.” This woman will not stop. She may not be as spry as she was 20 years ago when I first met her, but she is still Galina.
I asked her if she would take me to the Central Market. While traveling there are two things I like to do. One is to visit churches and the other is to visit grocery stores. I know it sounds strange, but you can tell a lot about people and a culture by visiting where they buy their food. Also, I’m a snooty foodie. We wandered through the central market and Galina pointed out things that she likes and tells me, “this is too expensive.” In a nutshell there wasn’t much to purchase there because she felt it was all too expensive.
I think the most fascinating part about the Central Market are the butcher counters. Each morning the butchers bring in their haul and the meat has been butchered that morning. The inspector comes and stamps the meat so you know it is fresh. Galina tells me you would never buy meat from a vendor without the stamp. The butcher counters are unlike anything you would ever see in the US. The vendors lay out their cuts of meat directly on a tiled counter. They are not in a cold case. They are not wrapped in cellophane. They are cuts of meat on the counter. The ladies sell the meat and if you look behind them you’ll see racks with sides of pork and beef hanging there. Next to the rack is a man with a giant stump and a massive axe that he butchers the meat with. In the first photo you can see the racks and the man standing next to them. I couldn’t get a very good photo because Russians really don’t like their photo being taken. I wanted to be respectful. Oh, and sorry if you’re squeemish.
We wandered through the stalls outside in search of a particular type of children’s shoes. They are called Nanai shoes and are a type worn by the indigenous people here. I wanted to find a pair for my nephew, but sadly Nanai shoes are very hard to come by anymore. We found one pair, but they were not well made and too expensive. We headed off for more shopping.
Galina took me to a small shop across the street from the “blue” church. They had a small counter with your traditional Russian souvenirs. I picked up things for the children and a few friends as well as a few things for myself. This is where my breakable item came from. I have a thing for tea pots. I splurged on a little authentic porcelain Russian teapot. I have one already, but this one is a little bigger and actually of a useful size. Russian porcelain is one thing that I could buy on every trip here if I had my choice. I have matroyskas, laquerware, a kitchen talisman, scarfs, weavings, birch pieces. They are all very similar no matter when you go. However with the porcelain, there are so many different pieces you can purchase.
We had a small lunch and great conversation. We talked about our families, life and even a little about politics. It was interesting to hear stories about the economy in Russia. Americans think their economic and employment problems are unique to them. I assure you, they are not. Russians have the same problems, or rather the same mindset.
We continued our journey out to the “gold” church. I was on the hunt for a special gift for my sister-in-laws. The scale of this church simply amazes me. I’ve been to St. Basil’s in Moscow and The church of St. John the Divine in Harlem, but this place is a whole new level of amazing. All of the buildings are finally finished. The seminary was not complete when we were here last. While I was inside God and I had a few words. I think we are coming to an understanding.
We went on a few other errands and stopped by another church. It is the oldest in Khabarovsk and the only one not destroyed in the revolution. Galina tells me that during the Soviet Union attending church was not permitted, but she and a group of her friends still met at this church. There were very few people in that time who defied the system, but now there are many who attend church.
Our last stop of the day was another grocery. This place is a stark contrast to photos I saw 20 years ago. I remember sitting at a luncheon with my mother-in-law listening to her friend, Bobbi’s stories of her first trip to Khabarovsk. She showed photos of the grocery that had many barren shelves and if there was food it would be an 8′ section of pickles… all one brand. Today we went into a grocery that was much larger than many groceries in the US. It was very crowded and the prices were very reasonable. It had the most random things. It reminded me slightly of a Russian Fred Meyer (you have to be from the Northwest to get that reference). However, the non-foodstuffs area was much smaller. It had sections for housewares, gardening, automotive and sporting goods. The sporting good section was full of ice skates. Pick up your hamburger and while you’re at it grab a pair of hockey skates and stick while you’re at it.
I wanted a specific kind of chocolate that I absolutely love and can only get in Russia (the don’t have it at our Russian market). While we were in the chocolate section (oh yes, there’s a whole aisle) Galina showed me a package of chocolate that had individually wrapped squares. She was trying to slyly open a package to show me and I told her not to do it. We joked that we’d get arrested and for the rest of the week everyone would be wondering why we didn’t show up. We’d be sitting in prison.
Of course no shopping trip in Russia is complete without copious amounts of vodka. No. We didn’t drink any. In fact I’m remarkably sober on this trip. I was required to purchase some for certain members of my family and my organization. I counted the number of bottles I needed and Galina looked at me in shock. Yes that many. A .25L bottle was $2.50 and a .5L bottle was $7.50. Galina kept telling me to buy the smaller bottles because they were less expensive. I had to explain to her that that same .5L bottle in the US would run us $20. In the end I did go with smaller bottles only because of weight. I don’t have extra money to pay for overweight luggage.
All in all I had a good day shopping. I was able to relax and enjoy myself. My stomach settled a bit and my head cleared. I’m less anxious about the days ahead and the journey home. I have a very clear picture of why I came here and the work that needs to be done. I am thankful to everyone who has supported this trip. While I may have spent the day shopping and having fun I still had the work of Sweet Hope on my mind.
Tomorrow it is back to work. We are going to visit the KSIL company and in the afternoon meet with our friend Evelina.