New FIVE STAR review of Gold Train by Author Jason Sullivan
Ancient Greek, best ways to learn Russian, CULTURE: Russia, easy way to learn Russian, English language, germanic romanic slavic groups of languages, how to learn Russian, Indo-European Language Family, Latin language, Russian alphabet, Russian language, Sanscrit, Slavic group of languages, synthetic vs analytical languages
As a linguist, I often get asked about best ways to learn languages. This post is in response to some of my readers’ questions on how to begin learning Russian.
First, the Big Linguistic Picture: all languages in the world are divided into Language Families. The largest such family is the Indo-European Family of Languages originating from Sanscrit. It includes Hindi, MOST European Languages, Persian, etc.
Which means that we all: the English speakers, French Speakers, German Speakers, Spanish Speakers, Russian speakers, Hindi speakers and… Persian speakers (in other words, Iranians), belong to one huge family. Kinda makes you pause and think, doesn’t it?
The Russian Language is part of the Slavic group of languages, specifically, the Eastern Slavic sub-group, together with Ukrainian and Belorussian.
Russian Language is one of the 4 official UN languages and one of several principal languages on the planet. It is spoken as the first language by 170 mln people in Russia and abroad, and several times as many as a second or additional language.
Russian is considered a difficult language to learn by Westerners based on its relatively complex grammar and different alphabet. But take it from someone who mastered several different languages – I can tell you from personal experience that English is a much crazier language than Russian, yet scores of people around the world learn it and speak it every day.
So, no worries! Just take a deep breath and use my formula for learning any language: CONCENTRATE ON SIMILARITIES RATHER THAN DIFFERENCES, and I promise, your language learning experience will be a breeze!
I’ve done some research for you on ways to learn Russian based on what’s available on the market today. These seem to be the best options, both paid and free.
1. PAID: Berlitz is an old and reputable language learning company. They are not cheap, but here is an Internet option, which may be quite affordable. They require filling out a form in order to get a quote. This is a more serious program.
2. PAID: This seems like an interesting and affordable program:
They have beginners (Russian Accelerator) and advanced (Accelerator II) courses. This is a simplified program and may not offer reading ability. But I like their methodology and approach.
TIPS: Here are some tips on learning Russian fast
3. FREE: This site has free insights and examples, including Russian alphabet, common phrases, numbers, etc.:
This is a good reference site. It’s a good idea to read through all the available info here to get a frame of reference. However, I’d recommend to combine it with an interactive online (or in person) course, so you could also hear how words are pronounced, otherwise, it may be a bit confusing.
TIPS: in order to be able to read, it is a must to learn the Russian alphabet, which is available at the above free site.
To me, learning the Russian alphabet to be able to read is very important, since all signs in Russia would be in Russian and you really don’t want to feel handicapped.
I noticed that many American programs skip this step and try to teach you how to learn to speak phonetically without anchoring it in written language. To me, it’s a one-sided approach. But, perhaps, for those who want to just get the flavor for the language it’s a justified shortcut, which will allow you to start using the language quickly. It may be easier to learn how to speak first and then, eventually, take the next step and learn how to read as well.
That said, when I taught my students, they learned Russian alphabet in 45 minutes and could read in Russian within 2-3 lessons. All, because I concentrated on similarities instead of differences.
So, don’t let them scare you by saying that Russian alphabet is difficult. The look and roots of the Russian letters are much the same as Latin letters. Both alphabets originate from Ancient Greek. Some letters may sound different – so what? It’s not Chinese, after all, with its several thousand written characters. It’s just 33 letters! No big deal!
In fact, as a linguist, I am trained to spot similarities and common roots among words of different languages. You’d be amazed how many similar roots there are in Russian and English as well as other European languages. All because, as I pointed out earlier, they are all part of the huge Indo-European Language Family. Which means that even Hindi language roots will be similar.
4. FREE: Another Free program – I think it’s a good one! Worth checking out.
5. PAID: Also, check out this interesting program – could be fun and relatively affordable – which will be available in May.
6. PAID: New, very promising course, which combines audio, visual and interactive capabilities. They call it Dynamic Immersion program. Worth checking out!
Hope all this helps and please leave your comments to let me know how you are progressing!
Wishing you much fun and best of luck on your new language adventure!
This post is ever-growing based on various new questions and comments.
A WORD ABOUT SYNTHETIC vs. ANALYTICAL LANGUAGES:
European languages are divided into these main groups: Slavic, Romanic and Germanic. They are also divided into analytical (Germanic and Romanic) and synthetic (Slavic) types. Strangely enough, Latin, from which the Romanic languages, and to a certain degree, Germanic, have descended, is a quintessential synthetic language.
Synthetic languages are characterized by the usage of a large number of prefixes, suffixes and endings, which are added to the root of the word in order to express the nuances and subtleties of meanings, thus making the language rich and flexible. This is why the words in Russian, and other synthetic languages, are generally longer. Because of this, synthetic languages can afford to have a rather simple syntax and tense structure, as well as flexible sentence structure. Gender distinctions (masculine, feminine and neutral) also become very important. These are main characteristics of the Russian language as the most prominent representative of the Slavic group of languages and of the synthetic type of languages today.
Funny anecdote: The crucial importance of the correct prefix usage in Russian is demonstrated by this hilarious and infamous moment in international relations. After being elected, President Obama started his heavily advertised “reset” policy with Russia (generally, a very good idea of course). To much fanfare, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Russia with a “reset button display,” which was especially constructed. She was to symbolically press the button together with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. The button was proudly shown to the cameras as the two dignitaries were about to press it. At that moment, Lavrov’s eyes fell on the word written on the display in Russian. The word read “peregruzka.” Lavrov raised his eyebrows, but being a quintessential diplomat, he pressed the button and accepted the display as a memento without flinching. However, he added that the word should have been “perezagruzka,” not “peregruzka.” These two words sound pretty similar to an untrained foreign ear, but they have a distinctly different meaning in Russian. The root here is the same: “gruz,” which means “load.” Alas, as always, the devil is in the detail, as the subtlety here makes or breaks the word. “Pere-gruz-ka” means “overload,” while “pere-za-gruz-ka” means “reset” or “reload.” How’s that for an epic language fail! Honestly, Hillary should’ve consulted someone who really knows Russian. I’m sure some heads have rolled as a result of this incident. 😉
On the other hand, analytical languages rely on a heavy usage of definite/indefinite articles, various particles (eg. of, for, from) and added modifiers to express the nuances of meanings. Example: “little” as in “little girl,” expressed in Russian with one single word “devochka,” or “my little daughter,” expressed in Russian with one word “dochen’ka,” or another variation with subtle difference: “dochurka.” Another example: “little kitty,” expressed in Russian as “kotionok” – masculine & “koshechka” – feminine. The following example illustrates the difference between Russian and English even better: in English you have but one option if you want to say “little bunny,” meanwhile in Russian you have a myriad of endearing options: “zaichik,” “zaichonok,” “zaika,” “zain’ka,” “zaichichka,” etc. All these words, with subtle, but distinctive differences to a Russian ear, can only be expressed in English in one way and with 2 words.
The word is generally rigid and unchangeable, although every analytical language will have some synthetic characteristics – some more than others – and a certain amount of prefix/suffix/endings usage. Example: Spanish “el gato” – “a male cat,” “el gatito” – “a little male cat.” Notice again, how much more flexible and expressive Spanish is compared to English. One word vs. 3 words! While Spanish is an analytical language, it has more synthetic influence from its parent, Latin, and therefore is more flexible than typical Germanic languages, like German and English. Because of this rigidity, analytical languages rely very heavily on complex syntax and tense structure.
Again, not all analytical languages are born equal. Complexities vary. For example, English tense structure is more convoluted than most. Italian, Spanish and German have more streamlined and logical tense structures. Article usage: Italian, Spanish, German have highly logical and predictable article usage. English is characterized with a highly illogical and “frivolous” article usage. Sentence structure is again quite logical and easy to grasp in Italian and Spanish. German has a more convoluted sentence structure, where words are added seemingly ad infinitum, thus making German language sentences some of the longest in the world. Gender usage also varies widely. It matters in Italian, Spanish (in words like “el gato” and “la gata” – male and female cat) and German. However in English grammar, gender has zero importance, thus oftentimes creating confusion. To clarify, a writer or speaker has to add words like “his/her” or “male/female”.
In some analytical languages, inflection plays an important role, for example, in Spanish. This is one of the things I love about Spanish (specifically, Castellano – proper Spanish), as the interesting inflection usage gives it a special singing and romantic quality. Same is true for Italian. Just to mention: incidentally, Chinese language is a heavily analytical language, where in addition to all the above, inflection plays a crucial role.
A note about English Language: All the above notwithstanding, English is still the language of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen; it is the the most spoken international language on our planet, and its popularity is not going anywhere.
I’m going to make a prediction here: since English is spoken by so many people around the world, and not all of them “dig” the complexities of the English article and tense usage, we are living in the period of simplification of many of the old English rules. All languages change in time, adapting to the demands of the present day and its users. Within our lifetime, English – which oftentimes doesn’t follow its own rules – will change, to become more user friendly.
I love writing in English, undoubtedly because I’m a sucker for a challenge. 😉
This is in response to a recent reader’s question about what colleges have good Russian and linguistics study programs.
You should check with colleges that are known for their great humanities programs. Generally, many large and well-known colleges have language programs. This includes many Ivy League colleges, such as Princeton and Columbia. NYU (not Ivy, but close) has a good language program.
Bard College, Red Hook, NY – my fave college in Upstate NY – has an excellent study abroad/exchange program, including Russia. A very old and traditionally excellent Russian (language and lit) program: Amherst College, Amherst, MA. Also, a very extensive Russian program: Hamilton College, Clinton, NY. This college is very selective. Study/work abroad programs are excellent for expanding your horizons and learning from native speakers.
By the way, Russia has recently initiated a very nice Russian college study program geared towards foreigners who want to study in Russia. Check with Moscow University and St.Petersburg University.
For additional tips and details read conclusion and disclaimeres below.
If you are a serious student of Russian, there is no substitute for hard work, and lots of practice with native speakers. A good system and talent helps too, although, anyone, and I mean ANYONE, can learn to communicate in Russian (or any other foreign language) freely, with some work and persistence!
The ancients used to say that “as many languages you know, that many times you are a human being.” This is a very profound statement, as with every language you learn, you also understand better other cultures and other people’s points of view. I like to think that if everyone on Earth cared to learn at least a few languages, there would be much more peace and friendship on our planet.
Generally speaking, learning foreign languages is like opening up new worlds, it’s akin to broadening your tunnel vision and enriching your life. It’s a very exciting and fascinating experience, however, if you want to master any language, you also have to overcome some formidable challenges.
Be your very own, personal Columbus and discover the new world, but don’t forget to have fun along the way!
I believe that my positive and inclusive personal philosophy of language study, on which I also expand in my new release, THE EARTH SHIFTER (top-rated metaphysical fantasy/thriller, which is based on true history and world events), will benefit anyone who is seriously interested in Russian, and other foreign languages. This includes general public, academics, students, writers and teachers. One of the main characters of THE EARTH SHIFTER is Maxim Elfimov, professor of comparative linguistics at Moscow University.
Those who like to read about Russia and the Russians, those who want to “start their own love affair with Russia,” will also enjoy my mystery/thriller GOLD TRAIN (Accidental Spy Russia Adventure), an Amazon/Kindle bestseller. Dubbed “Jason Bourne & Outlander fusion with a vodka twist,” GOLD TRAIN is a fast-paced romantic mystery/thriller based on true historic events! (16+)
Check out all Books by Lada Ray at a glance
P.S. Additional disclaimers below are in response to a certain comment I received:
1. This post is not a teaching course in Russian, but merely a response to several of my reader’ requests to provide links to potentially viable sources for BEGINNING to learn the Russian language and to share the tips for an easier assimilation of a foreign language. The discussion about synthetic vs. analytical languages is generally advanced, however, it is broken down is such a way so as even the beginners could follow it.
2. I am sharing this information publicly as a helpful and free resource. I neither make any profit, nor have any other interest in anyone following my advice or links. I do it purely out of the goodness of my heart and as a service to humanity.
3. My sources and links are intended for general public (not for academics or advanced students of Russian). However, the language discussion above can be a great supplement for both beginners and academics/advanced students of Russian. That said, scholars and academics should have access to proprietary academic programs and language immersion opportunities, such as study in Russia or any other native country or practice with native speakers (always advisable for anyone learning a foreign language). Make sure you have a good system and good teachers if you are an advanced student, but even more importantly, as with mastery of anything, there is simply no substitute for plain, old-fashioned hard work.
4. The above discussion of synthetic vs. analytical languages is in part based on my study under the wing of the distinguished Russian Foreign Languages School, and in part, on my own lifetime experience, observation, and practice of various languages.
5. I neither recommend, nor endorse the above links to Russian language study sources; I am merely listing several potentially viable ways to learn the Russian language. You may find that some of these courses are for you, and others are not. It is entirely up to you to discern what works for you, and what doesn’t.
6. If I were interested in being a teacher of Russian, my students would be learning it at a much faster pace than average, I guarantee it! I was fortunate to start my study of foreign languages in the 1980s, under the wing of the distinguished Soviet/Russian foreign language school, which was considered the world’s best language school of its day and which gave me an unbreakable, rock-solid foundation for theory, philosophy, practice and general knowledge of languages. However, at this stage of my life, I am simply not interested in this vocation, although I’d enjoyed teaching various languages when I was young and first starting out. But, having quickly found that I wasn’t utilizing even a tiny portion of my talents, I decided to do much more with my life.
7. If you read my bio, you’ll notice that I communicate in all languages I speak with native, or near native, fluency, and moreover, that I write professionally in English. It is my personal and professional opinion as a polyglot and author that English is an illogical language, and as such, it is difficult to get just right. The biggest problem with English is the illogical use of articles (I know the difference very well since I also speak Spanish, Italian and German), and the usage of tenses that is also somewhat frivolous.
In this instance, I do not talk about barely surviving on marginal language skills; rather, I’m talking real language skills here.
8. Finally, this is my personal author blog forum, and as such, it is for people who want to be educated and entertained. I welcome all nice readers, as well as all constructive and positive comments here.
Lada Ray, M.A. (comparative linguistics)
Feng Shui Master, Financial Consultant, Author
BOOK: Stepford USA, cat lovers mystery, conspiracy, CULTURE: Russia, international journalist, Jade, Jade Snow, Jade Snow World Adventure Series, knitting club, Moscow, murder, mystery, mystery thriller, paranormal, pet lovers, prequel, psychological thriller, small town, Stepford, Stepford Wives, twists, United States
Re-Blogged from DIFFERENT OUTCOMES BLOG by Jason Sullivan http://differentoutcomes.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/book-review-stepford-us-by-lada-ray/
Posted on December 30, 2011
Some people think small town life is uneventful. Jade Snow, the protagonist of Lada Ray’s mystery-thriller, Stepford USA, thought so as well. But Jade was soon to learn that sleepy little towns can hold the biggest, scariest secrets! Jade arrives in Stepford in order to rest up before having a baby. However, she quickly starts to pick up hints that everything is not all charm and tranquility. Many years ago a horrible crime was committed from which the dust has never quite settled. With her husband halfway around the world, and while she awaits the birth of her baby, Jade tries to uncover the truth. But who can she trust? In a small town that harbors a dangerous secret one misstep can be fatal!
This exciting page-turner written by Lada Ray will have you guessing who did it from the very beginning. Lada skillfully weaves many surprises into this psychological thriller. Her exquisite scene setting together with compelling dialogue makes Stepford USA a fascinating, if at times nail-biting, read. If you are a cat lover, as I must admit I am, you will very much enjoy the exploits of a certain heroic feline who plays no small part in this book. I highly recommend Stepford USA. Jade Snow is intelligent, warm and witty. Join her as she puts the pieces together and helps release a town from its dark, hidden past.
book review by Jason Sullivan
Afghanistan, BOOK: Stepford USA, conspiracy, Jade, Jade Snow, Jade Snow World Adventure Series, Lada Ray, Massachusetts, murder, mystery thriller, prequel, psychological thriller, rape, small town thriller with international twists, Stepford, Stepford Wives, United States
Review by J.J.Collins
This first instalment by Author – Lada Ray introduces us to brilliant investigative journalist – Jade Snow. Jade Snow we learn, is a twenty eight year old all action investigative journalist used to dodging straying bullets in Afghanistan, before a near death experience throws her into the arms of her soon to be husband Paul. What Jade doesn’t realise is that her days of investigative journalism and an all action career are about to come to an abrupt halt when motherhood dawns or is it?
This thriller is set in the sleepy surroundings of Stepford, Massachusetts, a small town community in America that hides a deep dark secret. Jade finds herself in this sleepy town against her wishes following her husband’s insistence on finding her a nice, quiet and calm environment for her to remain fit and well during her pregnancy. Jade Snow we learn is no ordinary young mum to be. It is not long before her inquisitive mind and investigative instincts, lead her onto the trail of a devastating dark hidden secret within the community. A crime so horrendous and brutal, it lives on in the lives and happenings of this sleepy hallow even until the present day.
Jade’s loneliness and love of quality company finds her being introduced, and soon becoming part of the social set-up of this most picturesque of American town’s. The intimate circle of six women Jade would join, unbeknown to her, will transform her time in Stepford from a peaceful relaxing stay into an intriguing web of lies, deceit and mystery. The pursuit of the truth will not only put Jade Snow and the life of her unborn child in grave danger, it will have a profound impact on the lives and community of this most fascinating of small towns for years to come.
This story of a horrific crime, a victim, an accused person and powerful local interests, desperate to keep the truth hidden from the larger world, only makes Jade Snow throw off her restrictive temporary physical shackles and risk all, to unravel the truth. The pursuit of truth among the complex personalities of this town, and an eagerness for someone to keep it hidden at all costs makes the challenge appear impossible.
Stepford USA takes us on a journey with this charming, sharp minded young journalist in a race to reveal the truth before someone else is killed, will Jade succeed? Can she protect herself and the life of her unborn child? Who can she trust? Anyone? Will she manage to discover the facts before it costs someone their life or even her own?
On the face of it, Stepford is a thriving small town community the likes of which are splattered across the American continent however, the deceit and manipulation facing Jade threatens not just people, it threatens the very way of life of this beautiful town. Undeterred, Jade Snow takes us on a gripping, dark psychological adventure, where unrealised talents may be the difference between life and death for Jade and others.
Does the answer to the secret rest within the group of six ladies “Knitting Club”? All women of varying ages and loyalties. We are introduced to Lady Adelaide Paphos, an elegant motherly like lady, who develops a fondness and close bond with Jade during her time in Stepford. Her son Jason who harbours a long held secret. Then a chance lunch time meeting with the power players of the local community that introduces us to the young police chief – Chief Nordini, Judge Bowman, Lawyer Marc Catcham, Banker Peter Burns and the quiet Jack Maloof. These men all with varying interests and knowledge of the comings and goings of the town extend an invitation to the elite Rotary Club to Jade. How will this innocent invitation propel Jade into an even more intricate web of unimagined deceit?
Jade’s investigative journey takes us to a “Hidden Lake”, a chance encounter with a friendly neighbour and his dog, a virtual reality experience and observing one of the married town influencers groping a woman out of sight of others. How does all this relate to the truth? Can it be found and who is watching Jade’s every move?
This page turning thriller is exciting, full of suspicion and possesses excellent character development throughout. It challenges the reader to consider the glaringly obvious and not so obvious, reality and challenge their own perceptions of reality and illusion in the pursuit of destroying the prejudices found in every small town. Will Jade and her soon to be born baby survive the small town experience?
The author has managed to develop a character with a fascinating thoughtful purpose. The brilliant combination of plot, character development and unexpected twists and turns, keeps the reader addicted to the next turned page. Once you start reading this book, you will not put it down such is the perfect pace and flow of words in which the book is written by the author.
Psychological thrillers don’t get much better than this. Excitingly and yet chillingly gripping, it’s the sort of plot line that surprises you at every turn and absolutely does not let you go.
A highly recommended read for anyone.
Celebrating New Year of the Dragon in China!
Guest Post By M.G. Edwards
My wife Jing, son, and I spent the 2012 Chinese New Year with Jing’s family in Shanghai, China. It was a special New Year’s for us, not only because it ushered in the auspicious Year of the Dragon but also because it marked a first for our family—the first time we had been together with Jing’s family in China for the holiday. My wife had not spent New Year’s with her family in almost two decades, and it would be the first time my son and I joined them. The happy hearts and big smiles of my in-laws when we arrived January 21 foretold a joyous reunion.
We arrived in Shanghai the day before New Year’s Eve. We spent some time January 22 getting ready for the evening’s festivities, which promised to be the grandest of a week’s worth of New Year’s celebrations. We went shopping and bought fireworks and red and gold holiday decorations, including the “Come Luck” (fu) symbol, to enhance the festive atmosphere. The weather hovered below freezing in the urban confines of Shanghai, where concrete buildings with ceramic tile façades sucked any vestiges of heat from the air, but the holiday buzz warmed our souls.
We spent New Year Eve’s with family at my in-law’s home. Her father, mother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew joined us. When we arrived, my brother-in-law, Song, took us outside to blow off a string of firecrackers and light up some sparklers. My son and his cousin had a blast.
My mother-in-law, Ma, prepared a cacophony of Chinese dishes that ranged from fish in sauce for Song to soy sauce meatballs for my son. The meal was delicious. My father-in-law, Ba, Song, and I offered toasts with shots of Maotai baijiu, a 120-proof Chinese liquor, and wished each other and our families health, wealth, and love. The others sipped Changyu, a Chinese brand of red wine.
After dinner, the family moved over to the couches to watch the annual New Year’s variety show broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV). The glitzy show beloved by many Chinese featured over five hours of skits, songs, and other entertainment, a tried-and-true formula used for years. The quality of the production had undoubtedly improved and become more “hip” than it had been when my wife was young.
An hour before midnight the fireworks started in earnest. We took a break from the TV show to give gifts of hong bao (red envelopes with money) to the children. The adults took turns sitting in chairs as my son and his cousin each bowed to us and politely asked for envelopes. My nephew recited a common Chinese New Year phrase, “恭禧發財, 紅包拿來?” (in pinyin, “gongxi fai cai, hong bao na lai”) roughly translated as “Wishing you a prosperous New Year. May I have my red envelope?” I enjoyed the ritual of the hong bao and thought that it trumped Christmas gift giving because the kids had to pay homage to their elders before getting their gifts (not to mention that it’s easier to give cash in an envelope than buy and wrap a gift).
Just before midnight, Ba and Song ignited a long string of firecrackers outside the apartment that exploded with deafening pops, adding to the sound of the fireworks booming around us. Thankfully, they did not blow off the remaining packages of firecrackers until the fifth day of the Chinese New Year.
At midnight, we looked out the bay window of my in-laws’ home and watched the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen. Fireworks were exploding everywhere—on rooftops, out the windows of high-rise buildings, and on the ground in the streets and alleys between buildings—everywhere. It was a beautiful 360-degree, three-dimensional light show unlike any I’d seen in the West. We heard the sounds of pop, pop, pop in all directions! Considering that the Chinese invented gunpowder and fireworks, it’s understandable why they went over the top using pyrotechnics to ring in the New Year. The din of the fireworks died down around 12:30 in the morning. We finally left the in-laws at 1 a.m. and headed back to where we were staying, picking our way carefully in the streets to avoid being hit by stray fireworks.
On New Year’s Day, after we had recuperated from the previous night’s festivities, we visited the Temple of the Town God (Chunghuamiao) to see the lighting of the lanterns that adorned the decorated floats in a pond near the temple. Dedicated to the protector spirits that guard the city, the temple itself lay in the middle of one of Shanghai’s most popular commercial districts. Thousands of visitors, mostly Chinese, had the same idea as we and converged on this popular area to take in the holiday atmosphere. The strings of lights, red lanterns with gold tassels, and traditional Chinese architecture at Chunghuamiao were simply spectacular, but the place was numbingly overcrowded. I had never seen so many people packed into one place — even considering that China had more than 1.2 billion people! The crowds put a damper on my mood.
On January 24, we visited my wife’s childhood home in northeast Shanghai. This fell in line with the Chinese tradition that a married daughter—my wife—spend time with her family on the second day of the New Year. We arrived at the low-rise apartment, which still looked much the same as it did when my wife grew up there, and walked around. Jing and her sister reminisced about growing up there, showing us where they used to play and some of the fun things they liked to do as children.
My young nephew and son weren’t so interested in the family history but enjoyed Yangpu Park, one of Shanghai’s larger parks located across the street from my wife’s former home. The boys had fun doing on some amusement rides and kiddie activities. Jing and her sister revisited a Chinese pavilion near a pond, a picturesque stone bridge, and other places in the park etched in their memories. I enjoyed watching couples ballroom dancing in the frigid cold.
Spending time with family and friends is an important aspect of Chinese New Year and a major reason why we visited Shanghai during winter. We spent the third day of the New Year, January 25, with my wife’s uncle, Xiao Shushu, his wife, and relatives Erhong Jiujiu and his wife. We gathered around the table at my in-laws’ home for another delicious Chinese spread prepared by Ma and listened to the relatives talk about the past. They told touching stories of how difficult it had been for them in the old days. Life was better now.
On the fourth day of the New Year, January 26, we went with family to the self-proclaimed “Venice of Shanghai,” Zhujiajiao, a beautiful village not far from the city. Founded over 1,700 years ago, the village was a smorgasbord of traditional Chinese architecture, including a Buddhist temple and a Temple of the Town God, canals and waterways, stone arch bridges, and wooden oar-powered tour boats. Dragon boats sailed in the canals and red lanterns festooned the streets. While we enjoyed the festive atmosphere, the crowds were horrific. We thought we were going to be crushed in an alleyway but eventually wiggled our way out of town.
Following our tour of Zhujiajiao, we met some cousins for a meal at the Xibei Oat Noodle Restaurant in Shanghai. Influenced by flavors from the Middle East brought to China via the Silk Road, the northeastern Chinese cuisine served was simply delectable. My brother-in-law noted that I enjoyed the roasted lamb, green salad, and pita bread more than the sweeter and seafood-laden Chinese cuisine preferred by Shanghainese.
On the evening of the fifth day of the Chinese New Year, January 27, the fireworks started again in earnest as the residents of Shanghai welcomed the arrival of the god of wealth and success, Guan Yu. Some believed that making noise would attract his attention and bring them prosperity, so the fireworks continued unabated for the next 24 hours. I did not sleep well that night, tossing and turning as the noise makers rattled outside our window all night long.
We concluded our seventh and final day of the Chinese New Year shopping and spending time with family. My wife bought some nice New Year’s decorations for our home. In the evening, my brother-in-law took us for a family meal at a Korean restaurant that he thought would satisfy my western tastes. The Korean bulgogi, kimchi, and other dishes from the Land of the Morning Calm hit the spot. Jing’s family joined us for one more meal before we headed home.
We returned to Bangkok on January 28 exhausted from a week’s worth of celebrating the Year of the Dragon. The intensity and excitement of the occasion was unforgettable. Through the family gatherings, traditions, foods, fireworks, and trappings of the season, I glimpsed the heart and soul of the Chinese people. The experience was so profound that I spent the next couple of weeks at home in peace and quiet contemplating what it all meant. I will never fully understand this cultural event, but it is now a part of me.
M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He recently published a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an ebook and in print on Amazon.com. His upcoming travel novel, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be available in March 2012. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.
© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.
Read Lada Ray companion posts:
How My Family Celebrates Chinese New Year of the Dragon! (includes Shanghai New Year Fireworks video by M.G. Edwards)
Year of the Dragon Extravaganza Complete Schedule
Accidental Spy Russia Adventure, Anichkov Bridge, Bronze Horseman, Catherine Palace, Fontanka River, Gold Train by author Lada Ray, Hermitage, Neva River, Peter the Great, Russia, Russian culture, Russian History, Saint Petersburg, St Petersburg, World Heritage Site
Above: Bankovsky Bridge
Below: The famous singing gold fountains of Peterhof
Year 1703. During the Northern War with Sweden, Peter the Great stands on the wind-swept bank of the Neva River, amid mosquito infested swamps and desolate landscape of the north, and declares that he’ll build a city of unrivaled splendor, to become Russia’s first sea port and maritime window to Europe.
Years later, his vision became a reality – and then some! Above: Medniy Vsadnik (Bronze Horseman). Monument to Peter, the city’s founder. The inscription reads: To Peter – the First, from Catherine – the Second.
The entire center of “Peter,” as it’s affectionately called by the Russians, or St. Pete, as it’s called by the expats, is the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The unbelievable beauty of its many exquisite buildings, bridges, palaces and statues can awe even the most seasoned world traveler. Despite its harsh northern climate, it can be incredibly romantic and it always is unforgettable.
Some of the most important episodes in GOLD TRAIN take place in St. Petersburg. The GOLD TRAIN heroine, international journalist Jade Snow, stays at the Duchess Vera’s house in the very heart of the historic center, not far from Nevsky Prospekt and the Hermitage.
Above: Romantic couple by the Anichkov Bridge. One of Nevsky Prospekt‘s most popular sights, Anichkov Bridge across the Fontanka River is particularly famous for the four equestrian statues, “The Horse Tamers,” which stand at each corner of the bridge.
Try visiting St. Petersburg in the summer, during The White Nights, a unique phenomenon occurring when the Northern Lights illuminate the sky, making a night almost as bright as day.
The mood during the White Nights in indescribable! No one in this city of 5 million sleeps and scores of people wander the streets, marveling at its monuments and watching the drawing of its amazing system of draw bridges.
Above: St. Pete’s bridges being drawn during the White Nights. Notice, how bright the skies are even after midnight!
Above: Dvortsovy Bridge (Palace Bridge) next to the Winter Palace – The Hermitage
All St. Pete’s bridges are incredibly beautiful and unique. Above: Probably the most famous of its pedestrian bridges, Bankovsky Bridge – Bank Bridge, which is just a few meters down the Griboedov Canal from Kazan Cathedral, owes its reputation to its four beautiful golden-winged griffons.
The Lion Bridge, another gorgeous bridge along the system of St Pete‘s canals
Above: Trinity Bridge
Below: Winter Palace, former residence of the Russian Tsars, the most magnificent palace in the world. Now, the Hermitage Museum.
Inside The Hermitage Museum:
The Throne Room
The Grand Stairs
Tsar’s Gold Coach
Above and below, The Hermitage Galleries
Below: The Winter Palace Ballroom. When I wrote the Menshikov Mansion ballroom scene in GOLD TRAIN, I imagined something like this! Well, minus tourists in jeans.
Some of the most dramatic scenes in GOLD TRAIN take place at the Menshikov Mansion. Prince Menshikov (Duke Menshikov in GOLD TRAIN) was a real historic figure. As Peter the Great’s first lieutenant, originally a commoner, the Prince rose to prominence during Peter’s reign. Peter relied on him for reform ideas, staunch support and execution of his grand plans to re-shape Russia for the modern age.
In GOLD TRAIN, I thought it was especially fitting – and ironic – that the Menshikov Mansion would be owned by the infamous Russian oligarch, a nouveau riche and prince-wannabe, Yury Gurevich, who would be instrumental in plunging the country into darkness as a result of the conspiracy… But… I don’t want to spoil your reading experience, so let’s not reveal the plot. 😉
Of course, the real Menshikov Palace is now a museum and is owned by the state.
Below: The Menshikov Palace, now Menshikov Museum
More beautiful views of St. Pete:
Below: Peterhof, Peter’s Summer residence and its magnificent gardens, complete with the system of gold singing fountains. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and my personal favorite.
The Grand Cascade
Above: Famous gold mythological fountains in Peterhof’s gardens
In GOLD TRAIN, Jade is supposed to visit the town of Pushkin near St. Petersburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its connection to the Russian writer Pushkin as well as for the magnificent Catherine the Great’s Palace.
Above: Monument to Pushkin, who lived in St. Petersburg and went to school in Pushkin, originally called Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar’s Village)
Below: Catherine Palace and gardens
The Amber Room (Yantarnaya Komnata) at Catherine Palace – considered by some the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The Amber Room had been carved from top to bottom out of precious Baltic amber and presented to Peter the Great by the Prussian king Friedrich, who went bankrupt to make it happen. The room was later expanded and perfected by the Russian craftsmen.
According to the historic accounts, Catherine could sit in the Amber Room for hours, meditating. Those who’d been in the original Amber Room described the feeling as being entranced and transported to another dimension. Catherine would forget about everything, including pressing state affairs, when she was in that state.
Unfortunately, the original Amber Room was stolen by the Nazi Germany during WWII. It was dismantled and taken to Prussia, where it had vanished without a trace. Its whereabouts are not known to this day.
Starting in 1979, the new Amber Room had been painstakingly re-created from the origianl photos and drawings. It took many years to complete the project and several years ago, the Amber Room reopened for the public.
Below: Re-creating The Amber Room
Below: The magnificent Amber Room
Below: Another room at Catherine Palace, with Empress’ images
And now, back to the city center.
The grand St. Pete Metro stations, much like Moscow’s, resemble underground palaces.
Below: One of such palacial stations
One of the most dramatic scenes in GOLD TRAIN takes place at the Sportivnaya Metro Station. Below: The incredibly deep metro escalator, much like the one, Jade took in GOLD TRAIN.
Below: Sportivnaya Metro Station with its Ancient Greek Olympics theme
For more about stately St. Petersburg Metro and Sportivnaya Station, check out my post GOLD TRAIN: Amazing Russian Metro
Above: The famous Church of Savior on Spilled Blood, featured on the GOLD TRAIN cover. The name of this church is highly symbolic, as those who read the book would recognize.
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