Dear Friends and Family,
I know it is not time for our update but this is a special edition because we are coming upon the Memorial Day Weekend. We remember wonderful celebrations with our friends of John Wayne’s birthday on these weekends, which always seemed appropriate because he so epitomized true American Patriotism. We also remember good food from those weekends. It will be so wonderful to come home and actually celebrate a holiday. American holidays here are just another day so we can never celebrate as we normally would. On the big Russian holidays we are usually cautioned to stay in and away from crowds. So we haven’t really had a holiday in a long, long time.
Monday is our preparation day when we try to do our laundry, that is if the weather cooperates so that I can hang it out to dry. We do our emails and and I even allow myself to check out some political web sites. I just can’t get over being a political junkie after all these years (since my middle teens). We also try to do our shopping. So last Monday we went to the central renok in town. It is like an open air market that has booths with all sorts of things. We like to get fresh vegetables and fruits there because there is so much more selection than in a grocery store. We set out to get ingredients to make fresh salsa because our translator and one of the Russian sister missionaries wanted me to teach them how to make it. The ingredients are all pretty much here except a jalapeno. I could always find them in Nahodka but haven’t found them here so I got a small red pepper from an Asian lady. We had to ask for it because it wasn’t on display. While it is usually easy to find the ingredients for salsa, there are no corn chips. I always carefully bring a big bag back from Korea in my carry-on and I still had my bag from our last trip. We made a large bowl that afternoon and ate it all.
While shopping we kept seeing bundles of ferns and thought that they must be food here. They are what Jim calls “fiddle neck” ferns because the tops are curled over like the top of of a violin and they aren’t completely open yet. So on Tuesday we decided to talk about food at English Club and ask about the ferns. We were told that they are boiled twice, changing the water once, and then cut up and served with butter on them. Very tasty we were told. I took dishes so we could set the table and have everyone say what each item was in English. Then we asked about their favorite foods. It was almost unanimous – borscht. So we asked what their second favorite food is. Again, it was a definite majority who like the white fat that is just under the skin of a pig. They soak it in some kind of a brine with lots of garlic and then eat it very cold but not cooked in any way. They think it is great! Sorry, I forgot the name of it. Then we asked what country has the best food and again the answer was unanimous – Russia!
When you enter almost any grocery store here your olfactory sensors (that’s your nose) are immediately assailed with the smells of fish, mostly dried fish. They also often display smoked fish heads. In this particlular apartment building we get to smell the fish again in our stairwell as it is being cooked by the residents here. I sure hope these awful smells don’t ruin my taste for fish when I return home because I used to really like salmon, halibut, and sole but now I am not sure. Being the cattle man that he is, Jim says that it is a good thing that Americans like beef because so many other countries are depleting the oceans.
There is another renok in the north end of town that is called the China Renok. It is mostly run by Chinese people and probably covers several acres. It consists of open cargo containers full of clothes, household items and all sorts of “Made in China” goods. There are other cargo containers stacked on top and the Chinese vendors live in these. We went there when we first came to town looking for some things we needed for our apartment. Word soon spread through the place that we were Americans and a couple of young people even followed us for a while. It was sort of like being a rock star. These renoks are open almost all year even in the very frigid weather, although many of the booths close down, especially most of the ones that sell produce.
We bought a white furry Russian hat for our daughter’s birthday soon after we moved to Usserisk. (She says she looks like a marshmallow in it.) We bought it from one of the few Russian merchants at the China Renok. Actually, it was a husband and wife who said that they have 5 children – extremely unusual here. Russia has some kind of monetary incentive for having children but the people we have talked to say it is so difficult to meet all of the requirements for the money that they don’t bother. So when this woman told me she had 5 children she added: “And Putin didn’t help me with any of them.” Jim went back a couple of months later to find a bathroom rug for me and this woman spotted him and asked what he was looking for, took him by the arm and led him to find one. (She only sells hats.) She got him a really good deal and also a good deal on a pillow. This was all done with sign language because Jim speaks very little Russian. It is amazing what he can accomplish without it. He could have been the cavalry scout sent out to make sign language with the Indians. He’s very good at it. We just thought it was so sweet that she remembered him and was determined to take care of him.
Word also spread quickly when we moved into this apartment building and through the neighboring apartment buildings that we are an American couple. It just amazed me that everyone knew who we were. Now that the weather is nice and there are many children out playing, many of them say, “Hello’ in English to us and I try to talk back to them to see how much English they know. Some know a little and some only know the greeting.
We are pretty much accustomed to finding what we need at one store at home but here you have to go to many to find different grocery items. If stores run out of something it is often a long time before it is restocked (sometimes never) so if you see something you like you better get it. We have found since we moved that what is available also varies greatly from town to town. I used to find some kind of brown sugar in Nahodka. Even though it was sort of large crystals I could use it to make syrup for pancakes and other things. But here I have not found brown sugar of any kind at all. I am getting pretty desperate for some but I think my sweet daughter-in-law is sending some.
I have heard complaints from some of you about a wet and chilly spring. I hope the weather is improving and you will have a wonderful, sunny weekend. I think rainy springs are pretty normal here. In that respect I think that God is very good to these people because the only garden hose I have seen here is the one at church that we use to fill the baptismal font. The gardens get watered by nature and there are enough warm, sunny days that they grow. Late in the summer they have to carry buckets to water them.
After all of this talk about food, I must say that I have learned much more clearly what the Savior meant when he said that “… man shall not live by bread alone..” We wish you all a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend! We give thanks for all those who have sacrificed to protect the country that we love and the great freedoms that we have enjoyed. We love and miss you! Elder and Sister R