Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Russian Diary - Day 1

Thirty years ago at about this time, I arrived in Moscow for a 4-month technical training in steel. It was  then called the Union Of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), which I later learned was composed of 15 republics. It was also named  Soviet Union. That period was Chernenko’s era, who took over after the death of  long time leader Brezhnev. A few years later, Gorbachev took charge, introduced  “glasnost” and “perestroika” and the rest was history.

I was then a Senior  Supervisor at Quality Assurance  Dept. Of National Steel Corporation in Iligan City  and together with Mike Uy, also a Senior Supervisor at Hot Mill Operations, we represented the Philippines in  the 27th UNIDO/UNDP  In
- Plant Training  for Iron and Steel Engineers from March 19 to July 19, 1984 at Zaporozhstal Iron and Steel Works in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. While based in Ukraine, our group of 17 engineers from 10 developing countries travelled far and wide the former Soviet territories, by bus, by train, by plane. From the capital Kiev, Krivoi Rog, Zdhanov, Donetsk, Boronets, in the heartland of Ukraine to the western port city of Odessa in the Black Sea, to the Russian region of Liepetsk, Cherepovets, Leningrad in the north and the capital Moscow, we saw its  vastness and  the richness in resources, culture, and history. Most of all, we saw and learned who they are, how different they were, and how they lived in that time.

I first published excerpts of my dairy in the NSC News, the official magazine of National Steel Corporation in 1989, the year Soviet Union was disintegrated into independent states. The recent incidents of conflicts which started last year in Kiev and spilled over to the Crimea region in the Black Sea and now the crisis in the border areas like Donetsk,once again brought back vivid memories of my memorable stay in that wonderful faraway place.

Day 1- March 20, Moscow

“Ladies and Gentlemen, in just a short while, we are landing at the Shereyetmevo International Airport. Time is now exactly 7 in the morning. Ground temperature is 14 degrees below zero”, came the Aeroflot’s stewardess’ final announcement. Suddenly, almost everybody stood up and reached for their overcoats, hats, and gloves. I remained seated, glued to the window. Below, everything was white. I could see Russian airport personnel standing dutifully on guard, in thick fur hats and overcoats, the read insignia blazingly visible from above. Beautiful-just like in the movies.

It was a bitter winter initiation for me. All along the drive from the airport to my hotel, the Rossia Hotel, reportedly Europe’s largest with 3,000 rooms, strategically just a stone’s throw away from the Kremlin Red Square, I have to raise both my feet to fight of the cold seemingly penetrating through my bones. I should have known better, I thought. Napoleon and Hitler learned this the hard way, and with it shattered their dreams of world conquest.’’Mr. Oleg (my guide/interpreter) but I thought it’s already spring time’’, I protested. “Mr. Delid, to the Ukrainians, it’s still winter time. To the Muscovites, it’s now spring time.’’ My first lesson here: for me, they’re just one and the same—Russians.

I slept practically all day. I left Manila the day before with stopovers in Singapore and New Delhi and the long journey took its toll. And for the first time, I learned that Manila time was 5 hours in advance.  The cold weather all the more made it conducive to sleeping. Later, had dinner of chicken and bread with my two Peruvian classmates in one of the hotel’s many restaurants overlooking Red Square. Against the backdrop of the magnificent Kremlin and Lenin Mausoleum dutifully manned by the Red Guards, we toasted for our safe arrival and for the good things to come.

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