Monthly Archives: July 2011

A New York Jew in China: A Year of Yiddish Videos

Over the past year, RP and I have made a series of 12 videos about various aspects of life in and around China, and I present them to you below, beginning with the final episode. They are in Yiddish, with English subtitles.

Yiddish?! you ask? Yes, Yiddish.

Some of you may not know that Yiddish is still spoken by anyone – some of you may think it is only spoken by ultra-Orthodox Jews. Many of you know some Yiddish words that have embedded themselves in English – shlep, nosh, oy! – but most of you have probably never actually heard Yiddish spoken.

For the curious: yes, Yiddish lives. An approximately 1,000-year old language, it is written in the Hebrew alphabet and is related to German. It is not a dialect, a jargon, or jabber, but is related to German much in the way that Dutch, Afrikaans and English are. It is a rich and beautiful language with influences from Hebrew and numerous western European and Slavic languages. Up until recently the lingua franca of Ashkenazi Jewry across the globe, the vernacular language of millions, the Holocaust and powerful forces of assimilation have driven it into decline. But Yiddish lives, still – and is even experiencing a modest revival among non-Orthodox Jews, according to some sources.

Why make videos in Yiddish instead of English, or even Hebrew? And why make them about life in Asia?

To take the second question first: why not? Yiddish is a living language spoken by well over a million people, and living languages should be used to document, describe and relate any and all experiences of their speakers. Yiddish enters its second millennium of life in the 21st century, bolstered by a dazzling history of literature, poetry, song and theater. It continues as a vernacular language in this century; Yiddish is emailed, texted, Skyped and Tweeted. Some people even make Yiddish videos and put them up on YouTube.

As for the first question – well, of course the author Isaac Bashevis Singer would have said it best. It may well be apocryphal, but he is reputed to have said of Yiddish:

It is the richest language in the world. Take such words as “a poor man”. You can say of a poor man, a pauper, a beggar, a mendicant, a panhandler…

But in Yiddish you can say: A poor shlemiel, a begging shlimazl, a pauper with dimples, a shnorer multiplied by eight, a shleper by the grace of God, an alms collector with a mission, a delegate from the Holy Land, dressed in seven coats of poverty, a crumb catcher, a bone-picker, a plate licker, a daily observance of the Yom Kippur fast and more and more.

There are some who call Yiddish a dead language, but so was Hebrew called for 2,000 years. Yiddish was the tongue of martyrs and saints, of dreamers and kabbalists. It contains treasures that have not yet been revealed to the eyes of the world. I say, therefore, to my children: Come back to me. Learn me, and my sister’s Hebrew and Aramaic. Learn my and your history. Treasures are stored up for you, saved form a thousand fires, preserved through a thousand exiles, hidden and carried forth from enemies and tyrants. Yes, you will find many treasures but the greatest of all is yourself. You will find in me your inner being, your identity, your very soul.

Without further ado, here is one year of A New York Jew in China, A New Yorker Yid in Khine, אַ ניו־יאָרקער ייִד אין כינע . Hats off to my husband RP for his perseverance in driving this project forward, despite my endless kvetching.

Episode 12 – Birobidzhan: A Yiddishland in the Far East

From the Jewish Autonomous Oblast on the Russia-China border.

Episode 11 – Living a Jewish Life in China

Increasing numbers of expat Jews in China leading Jewish lives.

Episode 10 – Passover in Kaifeng

In the small community of Kaifeng Jews, in Henan province.

Episode 9 – Chinese Medicine

In which RP gets stuck with acupuncture needles.

Episode 8 – Growing Old in China

Playing mahjong, smoking pipes, dancing in the public squares.

Episode 7 – The Jews of Malaysia and Singapore

A little-known history of Jews in Southeast Asia.

Episode 6 – What Do Chinese People Think of Jews?

They think we’re really, really smart.

Episode 5 – On the Roof of the World

Reportage from the Himalayas.

Episode 4 – Jewish Shanghai Lost and Found

Revisiting the sites and history of the Jews of Shanghai.

Episode 3 – The Real Chinese Food

Who doesn’t like a little mooshoo pork?

Episode 2 – Disappearing Languages

What it takes to document a small, endangered language on the edge of the Himalayas.

Episode 1 – New Cities

The new cities of China, springing up around us.


10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

And Now For Something Completely Different

It’s nighttime in the Valley, a remote, rural part of China to which I’ve travelled from Kunming. As soon as the sun drops below the mountains, the clouds that had burned off during the day return, hastening the darkness.

Those of you who have read other parts of this blog may know that I am a birth doula and aspiring midwife, not a tech blogger. Since midwifery is an even more marginalized and beleaguered profession in China than in the US (and that’s saying something) it was through sheer luck that last year I happened to meet Barbara, an American midwife in Kunming, that she took me under her wing, and that we have been able to travel to this corner of China together. Barbara would call it providence.

We first came here several months ago, invited by the local hospital to conduct a series of trainings in midwifery skills that could help the staff deal non-surgically with the problems they most often see in birthing and postpartum women. The maternity ward of this hospital, a series of adjoined, muddy, concrete boxes, has at most 15 beds in its four rooms to serve a population of some 100,000 predominantly ethnic minority people. The hospital staff, of course, are mostly Han Chinese.

Occasionally the ward is very quiet, with one or two postpartum women lying silently, their new babies beside them bound up in blankets and string like pork roasts. But today was a full house – every bed containing a laboring woman or a new mother and her tiny child, the space in between the beds filled up with husbands and female relatives, small bundles of clothes, food that the families must bring themselves. Last night had been sleepless, a nurse told me, with four women giving birth before dawn. Women, like many mammals, birth more easily during the night, when quiet and darkness leave them less disturbed and more able to concentrate.

When we arrived on the ward this morning, we picked our way among the families and laboring women, searching for a nurse or doctor to recognize and welcome us – as foreigners who drop by only periodically, we are never sure what the reception from the staff will be, despite their having invited us to come. In my peripheral vision I saw a nurse dash from one room across the hall to another and spied a doctor filling syringes in an office at the end of the corridor, but no one looked familiar to me. Was it because all of the staff we had previously met were working a different shift, or because they had all left and been replaced? People change jobs so often and casually here that it was hard to know.

I peered into the staff lounge – really just a cramped patient room, with two beds, that the staff have commandeered – and saw the figure of the ward Matron standing in the window. The Matron is a saucy old broad, unflappable. A head shorter than I am, her face is perfectly round and beginning to be weathered by middle age. If you encounter her outside the hospital, she will be wearing acid washed, appliquéd jeans and a frilly top in the fashionable local manner, her pixie cut moussed into a small bouffant. In the hospital, she wears baby pink from head to toe – nurse’s cap; button-down, short-sleeved scrub dress falling to her knees; spongy, orthopedic shoes. She looks not unlike a waitress at a roadside diner.

Removing the cigarette hanging precariously from her bottom lip, and stubbing it into a wet sponge on the window sill, she called out to me by my Chinese name. “You’re back!” Her voice was croaky as always. “Where is Barbara? We’ll go see the patients.”

Barbara had already installed herself at a patient’s bedside, and was inspecting a slightly jaundiced newborn. The Matron approached her and they made exaggerated, noisy greetings in each others’ directions – the Matron speaks no English, and Barbara speaks no Mandarin. I’m the translator.

The three of us headed over to the far side of the small room to meet a postpartum woman who had been hospitalized for 10 days. She had arrived in labor, with her water broken and a severe infection setting in. She had first visited a village clinic half an hour away up a mountainside – when she had a seizure there, they had made her leave for the hospital. After another seizure at the hospital, she was taken for an emergency cesarean, during which they drained liters of fluid from her abdomen, later inserting catheters to continuously drain the fluid from her body, still accumulating mixed with blood as she lay in front of us.

I pride myself on being known for my toughness and I am embarrassed to admit that my biggest concern about entering nurse-midwifery school is that I will vomit or cry in front of a patient. The wound that a cesarean leaves is always barbaric looking at first – either sewn or stapled shut, I have yet to see a fresh incision that did not look to me like some form of torture. This woman’s wound was no different, regardless of the fact that the surgery had almost certainly saved her life and that of her baby.

Barbara and the Matron variously commented on how well the woman was doing – her infection was clearing, her incision healing, her fever had broken. But this woman was panting, subtly shaking, her face rigid; it seems that people here do not like to discuss their pain, and this woman was palsied with her attempts to hide it. I did not cry, but I wanted to. If someone could let me know why Chinese hospitals so rarely give medication for pain, I’d appreciate it.

We made our rounds of the other patients, all healthy if immobile, discouraged from leaving their beds. The laboring women lay on their sides, IVs tethering them to the wall. The new mothers drank chicken soup and ate hard-boiled eggs, their heads wrapped tightly in scarves to keep the “cold air” from getting to them, according to traditional Chinese medical practice.

We were finally taken to a room that previously I had seen used only for storage, but that was being used today to hold two patients. Dim and airless, the room stank of sickness. The entire maternity ward carries a foul smell, the stench of years of disinfectant fluid spreading dirt evenly across the floor mixed with the stale odor of clothes and bed linens too infrequently washed. The dogs that wander the halls and patient rooms don’t help. The hospital has no janitorial staff, so it is the responsibility of unenthusiastic doctors, nurses and patients’ families to clean the place. This room seemed to be the one that was cleaned least frequently, and I caught myself holding my breath.

What brought these women to the hospital, however, was not contagious. On one bed lay a woman about to give birth, and on the other a woman condemned to death by tumors. Shrunken and white-haired, her abdomen was distended with metastasized uterine cancer. Unable to eat or drink, she periodically spit up clear fluid and blood into the tissues held out by the attentive younger women of her family. Looking over one of their shoulders, I saw the woman’s face tighten and contort. I thought she was seized by pain, but I saw her lips move and understood then that she was praying.

13 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Kunming Fake Apple Stores Shut Down

The local authorities have reported their findings from the investigation they conducted into the fake Apple stores in Kunming, and a couple pieces of information have made it into the news.

The first is that they found five fake Apple stores in Kunming, not just three. I’m actually only surprised that it’s so few – the three that RP and I found were just the ones we happened to come across while walking home from dinner.

The second piece of information is that two of the five stores have been shut down – not for intellectual property rights violations, but because they didn’t have business licenses, the bare minimum necessary for a commercial retail operation.

What this means, of course, is that three of the five stores (coincidentally, the three that I put photos of on this blog) were issued valid business licenses by authorities who were, to give them serious benefit of the doubt, asleep at the wheel – and those stores continue to operate.

What this also means, I assume, is that by putting up that blog post, my husband and I are indirectly responsible for some number of people losing their jobs as employees of those stores. How do we feel about that? Terrible.

I want to explain again: when we photographed those stores and put up that blog post, it’s not because we found it shocking someone had ripped off Apple in China. I’ve been coming to China for almost eight years, and RP has been coming here for 10 years – we’re well aware of the prevalence of shanzhai goods and stores in this country. Even the street that the main fake Apple store is on has what we assume are numerous other ripoff stores – it has two shoddy Nike stores alone, and this is supposed to be the main upscale shopping street in the city.

We photographed these stores because they were such detailed and complete ripoffs that they almost rose to the level of artistry, if you look at them in the right frame of mind. And I put it on my blog because I thought that a few people outside my normal readership of, say, six people, might find it amusing too.

We’re not shills for Apple – we’re just appreciators of absurdity. And the idea that people might lose their jobs over a blog post seemed ridiculous. We hadn’t foreseen the fact that this story would sit perfectly at the intersection of Americans’ Applemania and Sinophobia and, as one article I read put it, “blow up the internet”.

This is not to say that I have no feelings about violations of IPR in China. I hold the prevailing Western opinion that a total disregard for IPR seriously hampers innovation. Given the extent to which IPR is ignored in a city like Kunming – and, I imagine, numerous other similar Chinese cities that you’ve never heard of, each containing millions of people – if I were a Chinese businesswoman, I would open a fake Apple store tomorrow. What’s the point of coming up with your own business idea if you can just lift an existing one wholesale that you know will be successful and won’t be shut down by the authorities?

I think it is a fair criticism that social injustice is being propagated by a system in which the workers who actually produce Apple’s products in China are unable to afford to purchase them. (Not that the Chinese people complaining on this blog about the price of Apple products are factory workers – let’s get real. You’re not labor activists, you just want Apple products as much as anyone, anywhere.) Indeed, an Apple product in China is likely to be more expensive than purchasing one in the US, or even Hong Kong. The reason for that, however, is because the Chinese government slaps a massive import tax on these and other such products, making it even less likely that people will be willing to buy the real thing and support enforcing IPR laws.

Shutting down these couple Apple stores in Kunming doesn’t represent a move to enforce IPR laws in China – they were shut down in a little show-trial move on the basis of having been so shady as to not even have business licenses. But if such stores were to be shut down en masse on that basis, despite the loss of retail jobs, I admit that I would support it. I think that supporting such a move represents the hope that China could be a thrilling country of innovators on a scale that the world has never before seen – and it certainly represents a blow to the insulting insinuation that shanzhai crap is China’s major cultural contribution to the planet.

If France can enforce smoking bans in bars, China can enforce IPR laws. Agreed?

25 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Over to You Guys: Fakery Around China and the World

Congratulations to you all on your excellent sleuthing!

Over the past couple of days you’ve sent pictures and written in about fake (or at least seriously questionable) Apple stores from Croatia to Colombia, Burma to Venezuela, Slovenia to Spain, and in a dozen locations right here in China. (I also appreciate the hilarity of the fake Hard Rock Cafe in Ho Chi Minh City and the fake Hooters in Cancun, but let’s stay focused here.)

The most elegant and accomplished ripoff documented was a fake Apple store in Xi’an, China, sent in by numerous readers. Here it is:

Xi'an, China. July 2011. Courtesy of Bruce Burkhalter.

Xi'an, China. May 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Xi'an, China. May, 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Xi'an, China. May, 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Xi'an, China. May 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Honorable Mention goes to the following examples of shanzhai – obviously they’re not fooling anyone, but they won me over with their randomness and charm.

Mandalay, Burma. January 2011. Courtesy of Gregg Butensky.

Zagreb, Croatia. Courtesy of Ruadhán ÒNeill.

Flushing, New York, USA. Couresy of Greg Autry.

If anything totally outrageous happens on the “Apple Stoer” front (or if Steve Jobs ever emails me back), I’ll be sure to let you guys know. In the mean time, I’m probably going to get back to my regularly scheduled blogging, which, it may shock you to hear, does not generally deal with a certain Cupertino, CA-based electronics giant. Hope you’ll stay with me.

Thanks for coming along on this wild ride! It’s been a blast.

Video courtesy of Next Media Animation.

ETA: The reader who sent in the picture from Zagreb was under the impression that the Apple store depicted was a fake. Several readers have now written in saying that it is, in fact, an authorized reseller. I still like the photo, so perhaps the store in Zagreb will forgive me for keeping it up and consider it a bit of free advertising.

57 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Breaking News: Investigation Launched into Fake Apple Stores

This just in from Chinese official news outlet Xinhua:

Kunming launches inspection on fake ‘Apple Stores’

Industrial and commercial authorities in Kunming, capital city of southwestern Yunnan Province, on Friday started an inspection on all the city’s electronics stores.

The inspection is carried out after three stores, self-named “Apple Stores” yet never authorized by the Apple Inc., were exposed via the Internet.

The inspection includes business licenses, authorized permits of brand use, and the purchase channel of each store, said a worker with the city’s industrial and commercial department.

The inspection result will be announced to the public soon, the worker said.

The three alleged fake “Apple Stores” were discovered by a traveling blogger named BirdAbroad, who posted photos and challenged the stores’ legitimate status and rights to use Apple’s logo.

This kind of thing never happens!

15 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Fake Apple Store: Update with Video

As we head towards 1,000,000 views in less than 72 hours over here on BirdAbroad, I think it’s time to take stock and give an update on China’s favorite ripoff Apple store.

As many of you know, this story has struck a nerve in the Western world, and has spread virally…well, basically everywhere. Reuters is claiming that the story has been been picked up by nearly 1,000 media outlets – and I can tell you that I have personally been contacted by every major news source in the US and Europe, included the AP, AFP, CNN, BBC, ABC, NBC, and other similarly acronymed outfits.

The Chinese news media is also catching on, with several hundred stories have been published locally and around the country. This seems like a good moment to introduce you all to an excellent and relevant word in Chinese: shanzhai (pronounced SHAN-JAI). It means fake, ripoff, counterfeit. As in:

“Woah, these Adidas are on sale for five dollars!!”

“Dude, save your money. Totally shanzhai.”

An increasing number of Chinese people have contacted me, variously lamenting the enormous prevalence of shanzhai goods in China, but plenty of others have chastised me for even bothering to talk about this on the internet – shanzhai is unstoppable in China, they say, and point out that they don’t really care if the Apple store is shanzhai or not. Some have even said that Apple deserves to have shanzhai stores, since their products are absurdly expensive, despite being made right here in China.

I’ve also been called upon to publicly apologize to the city and people of Kunming for…I don’t even know what. Presumably for besmirching their good name.

As for the main store that I photographed in my original post: an employee of the store has confirmed that it is unauthorized. An Apple spokeswoman has also confirmed that it is unauthorized (before they stopped responding to media inquiries entirely, or so it seems).

The Toronto Star reported that they had reached the manager of the fake Apple store, who said that while the store is indeed unauthorized, the wares they sell are real. Reuters has reported that angry customers of the Kunming “Apple Store” have come knocking, demanding receipts for their previous purchases of Apple products.

An unnamed “senior U.S. trade official” has even weighed in, saying, “Confronting [the challenges we continue to face combating intellectual property theft in China] is a high priority for the Obama Administration.”

Regardless of the international furor, let me assure you that the store is still open and seems to be operating as normal. I have heard that international news crews will be descending on Kunming shortly, but until their footage surfaces let me offer you this bit of video, taken by me a few hours ago (Friday evening, China time).

Enjoy!

93 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Now It’s Your Turn: Send Me Your Fake Apple Pics!

Hello, Internet.

To the half million of you who have visited in the past 48 hours: Welcome! Thanks for coming. As I’ve stayed awake watching you all leave comments and links, reposting and retweeting, I’ve pondered not only such grandiose matters as the smallness of the world and the ability of the internet to connect us, but have also grappled with practical issues: What Would Sudeep Do (WWSD)?

I have decided that intrepid commenter Sudeep would now ask you all to do your part to keep up the madness and send me photos of the fake Apple stores you’ve seen.

Before we get into the intricate nest of issues around intellectual property rights in general, and specifically in China, let’s take a moment and admit that all of this ripoff junk is amazing. When it’s poorly done, it’s hilarious and a little sad. When it’s brilliantly done, it makes you stand back and wonder – the attention to detail, the belief that customers can be fooled, the willingness even to hire people and taken them unknowingly along with you on your little ruse.

Have you seen Apples stores that you think are fake in another part of China? Tonga? Dar es Salaam? Send your photos to me at birdabroadblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com. The higher quality the fake, the better. A few people have already sent in photos – if good ones keep rolling in, I’ll put them up here. Please include the location (as specifically as possible), the date you took the photo and how you’d like to be credited. Do yourself a favor, and check Apple’s website first to see if it’s an actual Apple reseller.

Speaking of which, to address the main issue that people have been getting all bent out of shape about: the stores I photographed do not appear to be authorized Apple sellers. The list of resellers in Kunming that Apple’s website has published does not include the locations that I photographed. An employee at the main store photographed has confirmed that it is not an authorized reseller. Apple itself has confirmed that it is a fake.

So. Begin!

Hanoi, Vietnam. October 2010. Courtesy of RP

77 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Are you listening, Steve Jobs?

UPDATE #2: Click here for updates on the fake Apple store, with video footage.

UPDATE #1: To address the main issue that people have been getting all bent out of shape about: the stores I photographed do not appear to be authorized Apple sellers. The list of resellers in Kunming that Apple’s website has published does not include the locations that I photographed. An employee at the main store photographed has confirmed that it is not an authorized reseller. Apple itself has confirmed that it is a fake.

I will not be publishing on this blog the addresses of the stores I photographed – if you live in China, you’ll understand why. Feel free to email me at birdabroadblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

*****

The Western news media is replete with pithy descriptions of the rapid changes taking place in China: China has the world’s fastest growing economy. China is undergoing remarkable and rapid change. This represents a unique moment for a society changing as quickly as China.

You probably read such things in the paper every day – but if you have never been to China, I’m not sure you know quite what this means on a mundane level. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, in the 2+ years that RP and I have been in our apartment, much of the area around us has been torn down, rebuilt, or gutted and renovated – in some cases, several times over. I had the thought, only half-jokingly, that when we returned from a couple months abroad, we might not be able to recognize our apartment building. Or that it might not be there at all.

As it turns out, my fears were baseless – our scrappy little home remains. The neighborhood, however, has definitely kicked it up a notch or seven. Starbucks has opened not one, but THREE branches (that I encountered) within a 10 minute walk of one another. An H&M has opened across from our apartment building. These are the kinds of major Western brands that were previously only represented in Kunming by fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC. Our neighborhood has quickly become the swanky shopping center of the city.

So when we strolled down a street a few blocks from our house a couple weeks ago, I was only sort of surprised to see this new place, one that any American of my generation can probably recognize instantaneously:

It’s an Apple store!

Or is it?

RP and I went inside and poked around. They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks.

We proceeded to place a bet on whether or not this was a genuine Apple store or just the best ripoff we had ever seen – and to be sporting, I bet that it was real.

I know, you guys are laughing: an Apple store in Kunming? No one who doesn’t know me personally has ever heard of Kunming before. Kunming is the end of the Earth. It’s all true – but seriously, China warps your mind into believing that anything is possible, if you stay here long enough. When we went back to this store 5 days later and couldn’t find it, having overshot by two blocks, I seriously thought that it had simply been torn down and replaced with a bank in the mean time – hey, it’s China. That could happen.

You have already guessed the punchline, of course: this was a total Apple store ripoff. A beautiful ripoff – a brilliant one – the best ripoff store we had ever seen (and we see them every day). But some things were just not right: the stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn’t been painted properly.

Apple never writes “Apple Store” on it’s signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.

The name tags around the necks of the friendly salespeople didn’t actually have names on them – just an Apple logo and the anonymous designation “Staff”. And of course, Apple’s own website will tell you that they only have a few stores in Beijing and Shanghai, opened only recently; Apple famously opens new stores painstakingly, presumably to assure impeccable standards and lots of customer demand.

Is this store a copy of one of those in Beijing? A copy of a copy in another Chinese city? A copy of a copy of a copy?! While you’re pondering that, bear in mind: this is a near-perfect ripoff of a store selling products that were almost unknown when we first came to China. My white MacBook was likely to draw only blank stares or furrowed brows as I sat gnashing my teeth trying in vain to get a piece of Chinese software to run on it.

Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple. I tried to imagine the training that they went to when they were hired, in which they were pitched some big speech about how they were working for this innovative, global company – when really they’re just filling the pockets of some shyster living in a prefab mansion outside the city by standing around a fake store disinterestedly selling what may or may not be actual Apple products that fell off the back of a truck somewhere.

Clearly, they had also been told that above all, they must protect the brand. As I took these photos I was quickly accosted by two salespeople inside, and three plain clothes security guys outside, putting their hands in my face and telling me to stop taking photographs – that it wasn’t allowed. And why wasn’t it allowed? Because their boss told them so.

I…may or may not have told them that we were two American Apple employees visiting China and checking out the local stores. Either way, they got friendlier and allowed me to snap some pictures.

And the best part? A ten minute walk around the corner revealed not one, but TWO more rip-off Apple stores.

Some store managers may have dozed off briefly during certain parts of the lecture on How to Completely Ignore Intellectual Property Rights:

Anyone from Apple want to come down to Kunming and break open a can of IPR whoop-ass?

1,016 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Around the World in 80 Days

The past three months have been a whirl of activity and travel – we actually traveled around the globe in about 80 days – and now we find ourselves back in Kunming for a last burst of activity.

Although we’re now into Year 3 of living in China, we’re fast closing in on the end of our time here: my fellowship is done, I’m dashing off my applications for nurse-midwifery school, RP is finishing up his fieldwork. We have to leave our apartment a little over two months from now, and then we’ll be homeless or itinerant (depending on your view of it) for six months or so, before probably ending up back in the US in the late spring.

But before we get to next spring, let’s start with this one: the end of April and May were spent in the US, moving from place to place as RP promoted his (BRILLIANT! CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED!) book, and checking in with family. From there it was off to Berlin and then St. Petersburg for me, and London for him, finally rendezvousing in Moscow for our Great Trans-Siberian Adventure.

We spent a few weeks traveling across Russia by way of the Trans-Siberian: alighting in eight cities of Siberia and the Far East, eating smoked fish, watching the steppe and then the taiga pass by the window, stumbling through conversations in Russian, sharing tea and biscuits with fellow train travelers, sitting with our thoughts for hours.

All 600 photos I took were lost with my camera, so you will just have to believe me when I say that I saw the sun set at midnight in St. Petersburg, stood and looked out at the Gulf of Finland, put my feet in the freezing, clear waters of Lake Baikal, and took in the Pacific Ocean from the top of a funicular in gritty Vladivostok, where we finally landed. My favorite few minutes of the whole trip happened during twilight leaving Irkutsk for the east, when the train sailed right along the edge of Baikal and I felt as though I were staring out at the edge of the planet.

9,909 km – 6,157 miles – from end to end. An epic journey through a vast stretch of land unlike any other I’ve seen. I’m a lucky one, for sure.

Russia is so enormous that a map showing the basic route we took across that one country alone can’t be displayed on this blog in its entirety…so I decided to make a map showing the entire route that we took around the world and each of the stops we made; by plane, train, bus, van and ferry; from Kunming to Beijing, up over the Arctic Circle to America; through Europe to Russia; and across Eurasia back to Beijing and Kunming. Click “View Larger Map” below to see the whole thing.

And while you’re at it, here are the photos that RP took on the Trans-Siberian journey. Click photo below to see full album.

In Kazan, Going into a Church

We made the last episode of A New York Yid in Khine from Birobidzhan (…not Khine…whatever) that will give you a feeling for what the trip across Russia was actually like, even better than the photos do. Stay tuned for that shortly!

10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized