War and Peace Notes – Introduction to the Collection

In Spring 2013, I enrolled in a lower-division undergraduate course called “Slavic 90A: Introduction to Russian Civilization”. During this class, we covered the geography, history and culture of the country. As one of our assigned readings, Lev Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” took a significant portion of our time. As we finished selected chapters, we were required to reflect and write commentary on the material.

Since a fellow student informed me that he would be enrolling in the course soon, I offered to compile my notes on the novel to share. In the process, I thought it would be fun to publish these same notes online. Who knows? Maybe a casual reader will stumble upon them, and will strike up a conversation on Tolstoy’s classic. Or perhaps, my observations might help out another student tackling this lengthy Russian novel. If you’re interested in seeing my collection of notes, click here and let me know what you think.

Photo of War and Peace Dance via WikiMedia Commons

English Translation of Fish Short story

Yesterday I dreamed about two unusual fish.

The fish swam in a waterless limbo. Their fins glided so effortlessly like kites catching the wind. I myself didn’t understand, but they wanted to tell me a story about their first meeting. The first fish had a weak fin. Although her scales shined and glimmered, they could not make up for the fish’s apparent disability. The other fish was beautiful in her own right. Her eyes were a brilliant blue hue. Unfortunately, she had poor vision. Since they once lived in separate tanks, they had never met each other for the longest time.

In fact, they had never seen each other, despite their homes being adjacent to one another. A potted bonsai obscured their views. The fish lived so close yet so oblivious to each other’s presence, as neighbors sometimes are. However, this all changed one summer day. That day, the waters turned murkier than usual for the poor-sighted fish. Her owner noticed the algae blooming, so naturally he decided to clean the tank. In doing so, he transferred our first fish friend to the home of the second. Frightened by the large pink hand, the fish fainted.

She woke up. The unfamiliar waters made her tense. As time grew and her nerves calmed, she slowly swam around and noticed the larger space where she had been placed. She was then alarmed when another fish approached her. She sped away, faster and faster until she realized she had no idea where she was going. Unaware of her situations, she cut her weak fin on coral. Her blood laced the water. She hid in the nearest corner. The second fish followed after, but approached quietly upon the sight of the injured fish. The second offered to bandage the wound with some kelp. Dialogue ensued. It was so natural. They befriended one another, swimming, playing, exploring and gifting each other cute little pebbles.

Unfortunately, time flew too quickly. Their adventure had met an end. When the owner finished cleaning the first fish’s home, he took her back home. The first fish was upset more than ever before. She cried, but of course, who could see a fish’s tears in the waters? She meditated, trying to decide what to do. However, she could not forget the other fish. A minute passed. Then, there was a scream of loud obscenities. The owner had knocked over the bonsai, soil gushing out of the pot. Visible was the mangled green tree, which laid dead on the ground. The shattered pot that once divided the tanks destroyed.

At that moment, the two fish had heard the noise. They swam up the edges of their homes to see the clear glass walls which separated them. For a while, they were convinced that saw each other. They played, swam around and showed each other pebbles just as before. However, it felt slightly off. Why was there so much mimicry? They were duped by the artificial memory of their friend. They only saw their own reflection in the cold aquarium walls.

The first fish quickly gave up hope. Her fin grew stronger and she later became adjusted to her solitude. She needed no one and lost all memory of her blue-eyed friend. However, the second would not give up. Her vision grew worse and worse each day. Over time, she only saw blurred shapes and figures, yet she was certain that she would see her friend. It was the same day her own tank was due for a cleaning. As soon as the owner removed the lid, our blue-eyed fish made a heroic jump. She fell for an endless period of time, and then she felt nothing. Her vision turned black.

The end.

Featured Image by Mathias Appel via Flickr

Moscow Attractions

Considering that we have diverged to Moscow for the time being, why not cover some landmarks and attractions in Russia’s capitol? This last weekend we visited and saw:

  • The Red Square, including GUM shopping center
  • St. Basil’s Cathedral and Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
  • The Armoury
  • Beautiful Metro Stops
  • Bolshoi Theater
  • Hunter’s Row

We even got the treat of lunching at a wonderful Georgian restaurant called Mizandari with a few of our Russian friends. However, there’s even more sights which we weren’t able to cover due to limited time, heavy rain and restricted access to the Red Square (because of rehearsals for the upcoming mayoral election in the city).

If you get the chance to visit Moscow, I would also the Fortress Kitai-Gorod, Starii Arbat Street, Lenin’s Mausoleum, Tretyakov Gallery and Kolomenskoye.

Great thinkers and business at ITMO

From 3D modeling from photographs to teaching languages online, the projects at SumIT this year blow my mind! Another team uses lasers to measure room dimensions for furniture and interior design. We even have a team with Anatoli who is building a program to analyze customer traffic in stores. Most of these projects are for commercial reasons, but Travel Angel can use these business and marketing lessons from our SumIT mentors to showcase our nonprofit platform as well.

Train experience

It takes approximately 8 hours from Petersburg to Moscow by train. Of course, there is also a high speed train around 4 hours, but the prices are higher. Instead, we took a night train. In those eight hours, we did not stay up very long. Nevertheless, we got a peek into the Russian train culture.

First of all, we took the platzkart (3rd class) wagon to Moscow. The seats roll into beds, all the compartments are open. They provide us sheets, so by 9pm mostly everyone is ready to head to bed. We brought our own tea and cups, then sed their hot water for drinks. Clara and Ryan were also smart enough to load a movie on their laptops to watch on the train too.

When we arrived to Moscow by 3am in the morning, we returned all the sheets. If you don’t, then they charge you about 30 rubles. We ate in a fast-food place in the train station. Then we called a cab from Phantom taxi to my friend’s place, where we dropped off our bags and slept for a bit. Along the way, I had some good conversations with some people from Kygrzystan, Armenia, Georgia and other former Soviet republics. I can’t say that their experience in Russia is an easy one, but they certainly have had interesting stories to share.

On the way back to Petersburg, we took the second-class wagon. Here, the compartments have doors, which you can close for more privacy. It seems safer here, because our bags aren’t as accessible to others, so it’s harder to steal, but I still don’t mind platzkart. Also here in second-class, we did not meet any folks trying to sell us necklaces or other wares.

Buying Russian Train Tickets w/ American Credit Cards

Dear readers,

I haven’t posted in the last three days because we were without Wifi access. This blog was meant for Petersburg, but we also took time to visit Moscow this past weekend. We learned first-hand that the direct retailer RZD does NOT accept American credit cards, so at first it seemed that we either needed to go the train station to purchase tickets or ask a friend to use their card. Luckily, however, we actually decided to get train tickets online through a third-party reseller. We used Russianrailways.com. This service was pricier than going to the train station, but the folks got us electronic tickets within one business day. We left Friday evening after a short meeting where participants recapped and talked abouit the week’s progress for each of the projects. Vladislav guided us through the metro to the train station. We just got there on time for boarding, showed our passports and entered the train.

In case this happens to you

When visiting a new location, you should always be aware of your surroundings. Store your possessions in a safe place like always. Additionally, it’s best if you carry just enough rubles for meals and a debit or credit card for ATM withdrawals. Not every taxi, store or restaurant will accept cards. Keep an extra card somewhere in your apartment or hotel. If you happen to lose your wallet, then you could always use the spare and cancel the other cards. The process require some phone calls, but is rather simple.