Category Archives: Culture as I experience it

A world of music in a short walk

Yesterday I posted on Facebook  these words, “Thankful to live near one of the most beautiful boulevards in Ukraine!”  Tonight proved it even more!

I fed my puppy Buddy and we went for a walk.  I don’t have a set path that we take and most of the time I let it flow.  I usually avoid Puskhina Blvd in the evenings as there are too many people out walking and too many distractions for a puppy.  However, after Buddy took care of his business, we strolled over to the blvd.

As I expected the place was packed.  It is Victory Day as so there were even more people out since it is a holiday.  We walked along the fringes of the blvd when I heard some string instruments.  Of course, I had to see who and how many were playing, so we walked to the center of the blvd and found 3 young ladies playing.

I stayed as long a Buddy would allow me.  It seemed like some of their notes bothered his ears, but definitely not mine.

I decided to walk further down the blvd to see if the break dancers were out.  I noticed a huge crowd where they usually set up shop and so I knew they were dancing.  I went to the back side of where they were dancing and watched from one of the benches.  Buddy did such a great job of sitting with me.

Eventually we went and sat directly behind them and Buddy entertained a little girl while her mom watched the dancers.  After they finished a set, I spoke to several of them and found Ruslan, one of the dancers, and spoke with him for a few minutes.  It is interesting how, whenever I come near, many of the dancers will come up and talk with me now.

So, as you can see, I meant what I posted on FB yesterday.  I am thankful to have such a nice blvd so near to my apartment and now that spring/ summer is here I get to enjoy it even more.

What goes on in a barber shop in Donetsk

I have been going to the same barber for more than 1 1/2 years.  It always takes a few months to find the right person, but fortunately I did!

On my first trip to this particular shop Oksana cut my hair and I thought she did a good job.  She has been cutting it ever since.  She even gave me her cell phone number so that I could call and make appointments.  They work every other day so trying to remember which day she will work from month to month is too hard!

I had a 10 a.m. appt this morning.  The shop is usually not too busy in the morning and today was no exception.  All of the women who work there were sitting in the main room watching TV.  Oksana invited me to sit down and I watched from the mirror the reactions of the ladies watching TV.

They were watching a Russian soap opera.  I laughed to myself as I listened to one of the older ladies explained to the other what had been going on with this one particular couple in the show.  She got very animated from time to time and the others would shush her to get her to be quiet.

Oksana didn’t speak to me much since she was trying to listen to what was going on as well.

It reminded me of the time I was in the hospital in 1994 in Lugansk.  I was in an infectious disease hospital, basically quarantined from the other patients since I was a “foreigner” and they didn’t want me to catch what the others had.

One evening, it was awfully quite in the hall and I looked out my door to see all the patients gathered around the nurses office.  I walked down and too my surprise they were watching Santa Barbara.  After the show they all asked me if life in the US was really like that!  Sadly, I had to tell them otherwise! 🙂

As I was leaving the barber shop, I told Oksana goodbye and as I was leaving, she was sitting in her chair, eyes gazing at the TV.  Some things transcend culture…

Arrival of Spring!

According to my calendar, spring arrived today as it always does on March 1.  Even though there is plenty of snow still on the ground and the temps are hovering around freezing, March 1 signals the arrival of spring.

Last year, I remember wearing a jacket till sometime in mid-April.  I sure hope the calendar (and mother nature) are more gracious this year.  I would enjoy spring coming early this year.

However, I can’t really complain about this winter.  Winter showed up kind of late this year and it didn’t get really cold until the end of January.  And, since I was in Budapest much of February, I missed the really cold temps in Donetsk.

Now, the calendar turns to March, my mind begins to think about outdoor activities and being able to do more, so I am hopeful that spring really has sprung and flowers and green grass are just weeks away!  Happy First day of Spring!

3M: By this all people will know, part 2

Last week I shared some scripture that the Lord has been using in my life recently.  I had not planned to write on this subject again so soon, however, in the last 48 hours, the Lord has vividly shown me His love through others.  This love poured out on me has spurred me to even dwell deeper on what God may be saying to me.

I arrived in Donetsk Saturday afternoon.  Two young people, whom I love like my own, met me at the airport.  Their father needed their vehicle, so they called their cousin (who is a taxi driver) and he brought them to the airport to meet me.  We got to my apartment and they wouldn’t let me pay for the ride.  We walked into my apartment and the sister had already prepared lunch for us!  What a great picture of love!

Sunday, my car wouldn’t start.  Dead battery from all the cold weather!  A couple of brothers tried to help me after church to no avail.  I decided to go buy a new battery.  On the way to find a taxi, I saw my neighbor and after sharing my story, he wanted to help.  He wound up staying with me more than 2 hours in sub-freezing temps!  A great picture of caring for your neighbor.

Eventually, I had to call my mechanic, who happens to be a pastor at the church I attend.  He showed up and after more than an hour of charging my battery, the car finally started.  He insisted that I drive my car to his house so that he could put my battery on a charger overnight.  He, also, spent more than 2 hours in the freezing temps to help and after getting to his house, invited me in to warm up with a cup of coffee.  A great picture of people willing to help.

Do I show love to my neighbors?  Do I show love to my brothers and sisters?  What more can I do to help them see Jesus in me?  May I be ever listening to the Father’s voice so that my actions will fulfill, “by this all people will know…”.

February 12: goulash and DP Zero

After church this morning, a group of us went to a great Hungarian restaurant and had lunch.  I decided to go with some Hungarian goulash soup and a Spicy Chicken and pasta dish.

The goulash was delicious!  Maybe the best I have had in Budapest!  The Spicy chicken and pasta dish lived up to its name, it was spicy.  But not so spicy that it detracted from the overall flavor of the food.  There were 3 different colors of peppers served with a bed of wide pasta that had a great flavor that added to the spiciness of the chicken.  However, the portion was so huge that I only ate half of the plate, so I am looking forward to enjoying the rest sometime this week!

After lunch, I took a colleague to Culinaris.  A local store that carries lots of imported foods from around the world. The main reason for going there was to get some Dr Pepper Zero.  As far as I know, it is the only place in town to get it.  I paid 990 forints (around $4.50) for a 2 liter bottle.  I will enjoy every sip of it this week!

This store has lots of other American stuff like Reeces Cups, Pop Tarts, baking items and lots of cereals.  However, I was a good boy and refrained from it all (except the Reeces Cups, which I share with the colleague) and only bought the DP Zero and a bag of coffee from Vienna.  I have learned that I really like Viennese coffee.  It was a good day!

February 8: So many choices… be careful what you choose

Budapest, compared to Ukraine, is the land of choices when it comes to restaurants.  In Donetsk, where I live, there is one decent choice for fast food: McDonalds.  Budapest has several US chains as well as some good local restaurants.

Today, in a moment of weakness, I decided to go to Subway.  I don’t do Subway as I feel that I can do a pretty good sandwich at home, minus the good bread at Subway.  I had a roasted Chicken sandwich that was ok, but not great.  This is exactly why I don’t do Subway.

One side “benefit” is to hear lots of folks speaking English.  There were 3 girls from Britain talking and laughing.  Then a boy and girl from the US came in and had a sandwich and left quickly.  They didn’t talk much to each other.

What I “learned” from this experience is that I should listen to myself.  I really didn’t want to go there, but decided to do so out of convenience.

Life is full of choices.  This choice wasn’t a life or death situation.  Yet, many of our choices impact our lives to varying degrees. The most important choice I ever made was in 1974 to follow Jesus.  That is one decision I have never regretted.


February 3: Times are changes

I remember the first time visiting the TsUM in Kyiv.  It was in May or June 1994.  The TsUm is short for Central Universal Shop (or Central Department Store).  These Soviet style stores are still popular where they still exist.

The first time I visited the store, I felt like I had just found the shop of all shops in Ukraine.  At the time I lived in Lugansk, in far eastern Ukraine and we didn’t have a shop that offered all the variety that the TsUM did in Kyiv.  I remember buying all kinds of stuff not available in Lugansk.

After my introduction to this department store, each and every time I visited Kyiv from Lugansk, I made a point to go to the TsUM to see if there was anything I needed from there. I also remember that most of the old escalators didn’t work and most of the time, only the ones going up were on.

A year later, I found out that another shop, called the Ukraina, existed.  It was there that I found a pair of hiking boots for some ridiculous low price.  A funny side note, my friend Dima and I stopped at a kiosk outside the store to get something to eat and I placed my bag with my shoes on the ground to pay.  We walked off and after a couple of minutes I realized I didn’t have my bag.  We ran back to the kiosk and thankfully, my bag was still sitting where I had left it!

This morning, I read online where the TsUM has closed for major renovations and won’t re-open until late 2014.  Here are the details.  It is sad that this landmark has closed.  When I arrived in Kyiv in 2003 I remember going to the store and realized it wasn’t the inexpensive shop that it used to be.  Most clothing had become expensive.

Now with a new mall going to open up in the spot, I am sure, with it being on the main street of Kyiv, prices will become even more unaffordable.  But I am sure I will ultimately visit the new mall, if nothing else, to see what was left unchanged and to see whether or not the escalators are working!

Praying with a new vision

On Saturday, January 28, a colleague, Linda, led a prayer walking seminar at Gethsemane church.  The first half of the seminar she explained what prayer walking is.  Then she broke the group up into 2’s and 3’s and gave them photos of different landmarks and places around the city of Donetsk that I had prepared.

After they spent time praying she went around the room asking them what vision God had given them as they prayed for the city.  It was great to hear many of the responses.  Several of them wrote on the backs of the photos their prayers.

Hopefully, when I return from my trip to Budapest, I can arrange a slide show of these photos and assembly a visual prayer walk of Donetsk to put on the blog.  It was great for me to hear their insight.  New eyes always provide new vision.

3M: Where there is no vision

Sunday afternoon, a taxi driver named Vitalik, picked me up to take me to the airport.  The street I live on is a one way street, except for one lane that buses use to travel in the opposite direction.

As we were traveling along the road, I heard a car engine revving and witnessed a car fly by in the lane reserved for buses traveling the opposite direction.  Fortunately, there weren’t any buses and we watched as this car weaved in and out of traffic with no tags on the car.

This incident caused Vitalik to ask me if we had drivers like that in America.  I assured him that we did, but there are far fewer of them than in Ukraine.  We began discussing the wealthy people in Ukraine and their children and several horrible incidences where their children have been able to practically walk away from incidences that would mean jail time in other countries.

His conversation reminded me of numerous conversations I have had in the last 18 months while living in Ukraine:  the younger people do not have hope for real change to happen in Ukraine and they are all looking for a way out.  Just recently, I asked a group of 4th year students a the Economics university how many of them planned to look for jobs outside of Ukraine.  Every hand went up.

I can only imagine the disappointment the professors must have felt who were sitting in the room.  They are preparing these students not to be productive in their own homeland, but for them to be productive elsewhere, at least that is what the students hope.

While listening to Vitalik, my heart was broken.  I shared with him that I have spent more than 11 years in the former Soviet Union.  I have enjoyed every country I have lived in and my greatest desire is to see these countries stand on their own and succeed.  Almost eight of those years have been in Ukraine and I have really grown fond of the country, its culture and especially, its people.  I truly believe that I love Ukraine more than some of its own.

Then, God reminded me of the proverb found in Proverbs 29:18: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (KJV)  The translation I read the most, English Standard Version says, Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.

Where there is no vision.  I think in many ways, this describes the young people of Ukraine.  Many have told me, “If I only saw the country changing, then maybe I could believe things would be different.”  And how true is the “the people cast off restraint”.  I witnessed that with the way the driver conducted himself.

A few hours later, I arrived in Budapest.  Hungary gained its independence from communism in October 1989, less than 2 years before Ukraine.  I do not wish to compare the two countries, but let’s just say that Hungary is farther along in the process than Ukraine, which begs the question, “why isn’t Ukraine?”

While there may not be vision in Ukraine, there is hope.  It is that hope that drives me each and every day.  The hope for a better country, for a better live.  That hope is found in only one place, a relationship with Jesus Christ.  That is my vision for Ukraine.  That soon, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess: Jesus Christ is Lord.  Then and only then will there be not only hope, but vision as well.

3M: Remembering the Blue Laws, German style

Sundays in Germany means that businesses are closed.  Several times a year, they are allowed to open on Sundays, and most of those Sundays are before Christmas.

Today, October 23, happened to be one of those days when businesses were allowed to be opened.  I decided to go to IKEA, on the edge of town, but just one tram ride away from my hotel.  The businesses are not allowed to open before 1 p.m. and must close at 6 p.m., so I timed my journey in order to get there right as they opened.

I arrived and there were people already in the store and there were numerous cars in the parking lot.  When I came out about 40 minutes later, the lot was full.  So, Germans like to shop on Sundays too!

I planned my trip so that I could go to a shopping mall where a large supermarket was located.  In many malls in Europe there are large supermarkets.  It’s kind of nice, America should try it out!

Any way, I arrived at the mall and it was packed!  The supermarket was full as well and long lines at the checkout.  Again, proof positive that the Germans like to shop on Sundays.

I had a discussion with some people about this law and they told me the church still has control of the government to the extent that they won’t change the laws. What’s important to note is that the churches have little influence upon the culture here and many if not most of them are empty on Sundays!

I remember growing up in the 70’s.  Everything was closed in Texas as well.  We had blue laws regulating that a business had to be closed on Sundays.  I seem to recall that when malls became popular, they wouldn’t open until 1 p.m. on Sundays and close around 6.  Today they open as they please and we know most WalMarts are open 24/7.

That is probably why WalMart and other big box stores like them never got a foothold in the German market.  Even though they do have large retail chains here, most of the mom and pop store exists as well.

At 4:45 p.m. today I had a reservation to visit the German government building.  Today is a Sunday!  I couldn’t believe that a business doesn’t have an option about whether to open or not on a Sunday in Germany, but the German government will give tours!  With the current economic crisis throughout the EU, I think a few more stores would be making a loud noise about being open on Sundays.

Just my thoughts….