Small Town News


Joanne Becker Tells About Visit to Russia

The Marion Record of Marion, South Dakota

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How would you celebrate your 70th birthday? That's the question Roger Kaufman, Joanne Becker's brother asked this summer. He came up with the answer quite quickly.

Roger has one son Nick, who lives in Russia. Roger felt this was a great time to visit his son and celebrate his birthday in a huge way.

As Roger contemplated the visit to Russia, he wanted someone to enjoy the trip with him. Who other than his sister Joanne Becker, would be his choice to accompany him. Clellan, Joanne's husband was unable to travel at the time, so they asked Allison, granddaughter of Joanne and Clellan, to enjoy the trip with them. Allison is a freshman at the School of Mines at Rapid City, S.D.

The three travelers left on April 22, 2015 with, a direct flight from New York to Moscow.

They spent several days sightseeing at the Red Square and other sites. The highlight for them was seeing a ballet at the Bolshoi Ballet. It has taken over three years to restore the venue. It is one of the largest facilities in the world. This turned out to be one of the best memories of their whole trip.

From Moscow they went to St Petersburg where they enjoyed the beautiful architecture and history of the city. After several days the three travelers flew across Russia to Khabarovsk, Eastern Russia. This is where Nick, Roger's son, and his wife Jenny live and where she was born and raised. Her mother and father also still reside here. Joanne said that this is where they spent the majority of their time while in Russia. While in Russia, Joanne said they went through eight time zones, about 8 1/2 hours from St. Petersburg to Khabarsk, giving an insight on the vastness of Russia.

Nick and Jenny met at the University of Wisconsin in Lacrosse. Jenny studied Journalism here and went on to receive her master's degree in Canada. Jenny was a foreign exchange student.

Jenny works as a journalist in Russia. Russia has only three state run newspapers. All news has to be approved by authorities in Moscow and their office has two lawyers at all times. This is the first online newspaper in Russia.

Nick works for a private company which teaches adult learners the English language. Many professional people want to improve their English. Joanne said they visited one of his classes. The students included a high school senior, two engineers and three bankers. "It was enjoyable to hear their life stories and for us to share about our lives in America. We found that we had many more things in common than differences."

Joanne said they found that it's very difficult to get a Visa to Russia. They have to be signed into a hotel to get a Visa to Russia. You need to carry your Visa with you at all times, also a document stating which hotel you are staying in for the night. Joanne said they were never stopped, but always prepared with these two documents. "If we lost our Visa, Jenny informed us that we would be their guests for several months while we waited for another one to be issued. The diplomatic wheels turn slowly, and often involve bribes; this is a way of life in Russia."

Technology is very expensive in Russia. Many use trac phones that might cost $10.00 a month. There are Kiosks on almost every street where the people can buy their cards for telephone minutes, very much like the trac phones in America. There are no large companies driving up the cost of cell phone use.

Joanne said that they didn't watch much news while in Russia since British TV is the only English speaking TV station available. But while there they did hear about the tornado in Delmont, SD on British TV.

As for education, it is free in Russia, with books and housing included. The housing sometimes has a lot to be desired. They can house up to 100 girls in a dorm with only one bathroom. If parents have money, they rent apartments in cities for their children while they go to college. Joanne said, "we met one sweet girl who was a college student. Her parents lived in the country and did not have much money. She got on the bus at seven in the morning. She went to the city to go to college, worked in the afternoon and got home at 10:00 p.m. at night. I asked if she didn't get tired of this and she replied, 'oh no, it is what I am used to'!"

The main religion in Russia is Russian Orthodox. When communism took over, they closed most of the churches, so very few are seen in use. They have wedding chapels instead of getting married in a church. Saturday is wedding day at the Red Square.

The Russians don't live as extravagant as we do in America. Very few people in Russia live in houses. They rent or buy apartments for about $400 to $500 a month, and. most of them are small. All are different in architecture. The kitchens are small — no gadgets! The architecture varies with the Zar who was in power at the time. High rises built today are on the Putin style, usually a variation on the trim around the top.

Russian families are quite small. Most families have only one or two children. It's too expensive to have many children which would mean they would have to get a larger apartment.

The women that hold a job outside of the home are allowed a year maternity leave. Some companies won't hire a young married woman because she may have a child and they will have to pay maternity leave for a whole year. When the women get back to work, they have to work long days and children are in day care or with Nannies for many hours. The women in Russia own only about three dresses for the summer and three for the winter. Joanne said the people dress up a lot more in Russia than in America. By third grade the girls are wearing high heels all day. They don't buy things they don't need like the Americans. In the cities people wear dressy clothes, career clothing, and suits for men. They wouldn't go out on the street wearing jogging clothing or tennis shoes. They feel that Americans are too casual in their dress. Joanne said "when we got back to the New York airport, we realized how poorly everyone was dressed according to what we were accustomed to in Russia. The three of us agreed that we missed what we had experienced during our time in Russia."

Many older people in Russia still hang on to their old customs. Some of the families have "Datches" out in the country, a one room house that they use in the summer. The Datches have a small plot where they can plant a garden, giving them food for the winter. The older Russians love to garden. Joanne said, "My niece and her husband and her brother and his wife have no interest in this style of gardening. They would rather go to the supermarket for their vegetables. Jenny's parents and grandparents however love their Datches aid have many fruits and vegetables for winter use. This was especially valuable during communist years, when food was often scarce."

Nick made the comment "people don't do mindless eating here in Russia." Unlike Americans they don't do any snacking and don't have fast food. They never use plastic utensils, plates and cups; they wash all their dishes by hand. When serving food they don't use huge plates such as the Americans are accustomed to. The servings are small. Joanne commented, "We were never full while there, but it was adequate." They don't have anything to drink with their meals.

Joanne said it was interesting to her that while in Russia they didn't see any children or young adults that were overweight. "Maybe it's because they walk all over, consuming much smaller portions, no fast food and much less processed foods."

East Russia has lots of fish and chicken, hardly any pork or beef. They serve a lot of soup such as borsch. Every wife has a borsch recipe. Salads might consist of fresh beets, carrots, peas or onions with light vinaigrette. They have very little lettuce and is used only as a filler. For dessert they might serve a small amount of fruit or candy in small portions

The supermarkets are small in Russia. They don't package their meat with labels so you won't know what kind of meat you are buying. The meat is out in the open and not covered. Very little processed food is found in the markets with a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. A lot of the products come from China. Some of the Russians are leery about buying food traded from China because they don't have strict quality control standards. The trade from China in East Russia has increased very much in the last years. The sanctions against this have forced Russians to produce more of their goods and has increased trading with China.

At Khabarovsk only a bridge divides China from the city; so much trade is crossed there. Joanne said, "We visited with a man who works every day, hauling Russian goods to China and bringing Chinese goods in return."

Joanne said they found Russia to be very nice and clean. They didn't see any billboards or signs. "The cities were clean, but the country did have a litter problem."

The travelers found downtown Russia to be very safe.

"They have very strict gun control. They can have only one gun for hunting and must be renewed every year. The Russians feel that America is unsafe."

The downtown has beautiful lighted fountains with music where you will see many people out walking till late at night. Joanne said, "we never felt scared and saw a lot of police." The Russians are afraid of coming to America because they think we all have guns and that innocent people get shot in shopping malls and theaters. "We did tell them that these are isolated cases, sadly but true, that is what the world hears in the media about our country."

The people have very few cars. They use subways, cabs or buses and walk, walk, walk! They average walking about five miles a day. Roads are very dangerous with very little traffic control. Many men get killed in accidents; life expectancy for men is about 56 years old! This is mostly because of road accidents and alcohol related accidents.

Many people travel on night trains. Sleeping on the train is very uncomfortable but Russians seem to get used to it. Joanne said, "I compare it to sleeping in the back of a stock truck on a bumpy road." There are four single beds and you can sleep with total strangers (most Americans would not find this very enjoyable). The goal is to fill up every room. The ride is from eight in the evening to eight in the morning. "The ones we went on averaged about 60 miles per hour."

Joanne said they also went sightseeing in the country. Much of the land is forest and low land and is very damp and drab this time of the year. North of Khabarovak they saw some very small dairy farms. This was much to the delight of Joanne's brother Roger who is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin. The flat areas had corn and soybeans and a type of barley. They had communal farms during communism and when that ended the "bosses" of these farms claimed the land. They are now rich and hire men to farm the land.

Joanne said one of their highlights was when they were able to tour the shelter for the Amur Tigers in eastern Russia. Amur Tigers are the largest tigers in the world, East Russians are very proud of them. There are some of these tigers also found in China.

The travelers spent their last two days in Vladivostok (A sea port city). When Russia hosted the Opec meetings several years ago, Putin had huge suspension bridges built. They also built a very large university (combining three existing universities). A lot of infrastructure was updated. The city is 58 miles north of North Korea. Russians can tour North Korea with tour groups. It has beautiful vegetation and has very friendly people. North Korea workers can get a one year Visa to go to Russian to work. This is because there isn't enough work in North Korea. Their work is said to be "very neat." They are called "the little people." They often are only five foot tall because of poor diets.

In conclusion Joanne stated, "My overall impression of Russia is how devastating so many years of communism is on a country in so many ways. Jenny's parents were wonderful hosts and they told us that in the past years conditions in Russia have improved so much."

They said, "We are again proud to be Russians."

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Original Publication Date: October 8, 2015

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