CNY Moscow

CHINESE NEW YEAR is fondly celebrated at home in KL all my growing up years, and now also in Malacca after I got married.

While the celebration away from home is just not the same, we do have some fond memories of CNY when in Moscow (and earlier in Washington DC and later in Hong Kong).

RED ALERT… guests in red attires during our CNY open house in Moscow on 18 Feb 2007.

RED ALERT… guests in red attires during our CNY open house in Moscow on 18 Feb 2007.

The ladies posed for a pix.

The ladies posed for a pix.

(L) The men who were also colleagues, having a good chat away from the office; (R) Other guests.

(L) The men who were also colleagues, having a good chat away from the office; (R) Other guests.

(L-R) More neighbours, friends and colleagues.

(L-R) More neighbours, friends and colleagues.

Doctors in a row… (L-R) Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor ; Dr. Faiz Khaleed and then-doctor-in-the-making Melvin.

Doctors in a row… (L-R) Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor ; Dr. Faiz Khaleed and then-doctor-in-the-making Melvin.

Some of the guests in the living room upstairs (photo courtesy of KathrinM).

Some of the guests in the living room upstairs (photo courtesy of KathrinM).

Before and after pictures of the main dish – a whole roasted lamb and pilaf rice.

Before and after pictures of the main dish – a whole roasted lamb and pilaf rice.

Festive cookies and kuih, many kindly contributed by neighbours :-)

Festive cookies and kuih, some kindly contributed by neighbours 🙂

A week later on 24th February 2007, we held a CNY lunch for the local staff, thankful that they came despite that Saturday being a very cold snowy day… then again, what is a little snow to the locals, anyway 🙂

CNY lunch at home on 24 February 2007.

CNY lunch at home on 24 February 2007.

The local staff partook in karaoke and even entertained on the piano.

The local staff partook in karaoke and even entertained on the piano.

M was the only child there and got quite a bit of attention from the guests.

M was the only child there and got quite a bit of attention from the guests.

More photos with the local staff (24 February 2007).

More photos with the local staff (24 February 2007).

Advertisements

Happy Memories of “Neskuchny Sad”, Moscow

“NESKUCHNY SAD” IN Russian Нескучный сад is translated as “Fun Garden”. The park was previously an estate home for the aristocrats and royalty; today is it the property of the Russian Academy of Science. Some of its structures dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries – summer houses, pavilions and bridges – are still found on the large estate.

Every now and then, we’d head there for an evening stroll or a weekend walk, and also to enjoy the serenity of Moscow River that flows by it. The park provided me plenty of fond memories over the four seasons to reminisce over.

I love its autumn colours and walking on the crisp dried leaves (link). I especially look forward to winter when we went sledding on the snow-covered slopes! I don’t particularly like spring there as the wet grounds would be swarmed with worms the size of spaghetti – some dead, many still alive! Summer was a good excuse to get out of the apartment and enjoy the outdoors (link).

For me personally, Neskuchny Park lived up to its translated name. While one end of the park is adjacent to the well-known amusement Gorky Park, the “fun” derived from Neskuchny Park is of a different kind. The endless walks we took there were simple pleasures, unhurried, peaceful and inspiring…

Still plenty of snow at the start of spring. (25 Mac 2006)

Still plenty of snow at the start of spring. (25 Mac 2006)

The snow is gone, but the sun is here, plenty of it! (4 May 2006)

The snow is gone, but the sun is here, plenty of it! M jumps with joy near a stone bridge which subsequently became one of our favourite spots. (4 May 2006)

(Bottom, L-R) By the “Swimmer” sculpture; another sculpture and fountain next to an entrance to Gorky Park; our favourite stone bridge. (13 May 2006)

(Bottom, L-R) By the “Swimmer” sculpture; another sculpture and fountain next to an entrance to Gorky Park; our favourite stone bridge. (13 May 2006)

The girls are happy by their mommies, but are happier riding on their daddies. (30 July 2006)

The girls are happy by their mommies, but are happier riding on their daddies. (30 July 2006)

Little friends M and F walking home after playing in the park on 16 Sep 2006 at 7:26pm.

Little friends M and F walking home after playing in the park on 16 Sep 2006 at 7:26pm.

Back at the park to enjoy the gardens. (20 Sep 2006)

Back at the park to enjoy the gardens. (20 Sep 2006)

Another visit the following week. (28 Sep 2006)

Another visit the following week. (28 Sep 2006)

Lured back to the park despite the cold… someone had to feed the ducks! (20 Dec 2006)

The winter of 2007 brought abundant of snow. We returned to Neskuchny Park numerous times in February.

Photos of my favourite spots taken on 5 Feb 2007.

Photos of my favourite spots taken on 5 Feb 2007.

It was still snowing when we went there on 10 Feb 2007.

Lovely snow-covered trees and branches, and snow-covered table-tennis tables too! (10 Feb 2007)

Lovely snow-covered trees and branches, and snow-covered table-tennis tables too! (10 Feb 2007)

The next day, we woke up to a bright lovely day, clear blue skies and abundant of snow glistening in the sunlight. We returned to the park to see the surface of Moscow River frozen! (11 Feb 2007)

Scores of people also went to enjoy the lovely day and snow-related activities. The kids had fun sledding. (11 Feb 2007)

Less than two weeks later, we returned, once again armed with our snow mobile, sled and spade. The kids and adults had a field day sledding down the slopes, and M had great fun burying F in the snow! (20 Feb 2007)

Less than two weeks later, we returned, once again armed with our snow mobile, sled and spade. The kids and adults had a field day sledding down the slopes, and M had great fun burying F in the snow! (20 Feb 2007)

Recently I read in The Moscow News (link) that a woman was found murdered there on Monday, 27th May 2013 and by Friday, the police had arrested a suspect. A rather scary thought, a place so peaceful and serene is now also a murder scene!

Snow in May!

IMAGINE THAT, IT snowed in May 2007 in Moscow!

We were well into the final month of spring when the weather sprung a little surprise with that brief snowfall! It snowed for just about an hour between 10-11am that day. The snow didn’t stick though, white flurries floated in the air but quickly melted away even before they touched the ground as the temperature was too warm.

While the morning flurries were a delightful surprise, another notable memory of this day was the camaraderie that I enjoyed with my neighbours living in the same building, far away from our home country. That morning I found myself in J’s kitchen and watched another neighbour R demonstrate how to bake a pandan cake. We stayed on till past noon to enjoy a few slices of the fluffy green cake… a rare treat indeed in the Russian capital! Later in the afternoon, another neighbour S rang and asked for calamine lotion as her youngest son had chicken pox. I took the lift down and delivered a bottle to her.

Two days later on 5th May, a few of us neighbours went on a trip to the crystal city of Gus-Khrustalny, Vladimir, four hours journey from Moscow city. During the journey, there was a mix of drizzle and snow again!

If you take into consideration that the first snow in Moscow is typically at the end of October, and that it still snowed in May, indeed, Moscow’s winter lasts six months long!

Snow_1

Looking down at Ulitsa Stasovoy off Leninsky Prospekt.

Snow_2

Traffic smooth on Leninsky Prospekt despite the unexpected snow flurries.

Snow_3

Looking down into the grounds of a hospital located along Leninsky Prospekt.

Snow_4

Snow flurries made the Donskoy Monastery a burry vision.

Blimey… It’s a Party with Blini, Bear and Bonfire!

Blinis of all sizes (and taste too, I presume) contributed by students, being shared in school.

Blinis of all sizes (and taste too, I presume) contributed by students, being shared in school.

SHROVETIDE OR MASLENISTA is a celebration of the end of winter and the start of spring. It has a tradition that goes a long way back, but to an outsider like me, it’s simply a time for partying and feasting on blinis or Russian pancakes.

Blini is an essential part of the celebrations. Being “warm, round and golden”, it symbolises the sun, much welcome during the cold winter. Russians eat their pancakes with fillings such as sour cream, butter, jam, minced meat, cottage cheese, fresh berries, mushrooms, salted fish and even caviars. They have them with coffee, tea and even vodka.

Two other essentials of Maslenista are bears and bonfires.

It was said in the past, “bears and their tamers would perform at Maslenista and both would be served large quantities of vodka, ending in a wresting match between them in which the bear wins”. At the end of the festive event, an effigy of a straw/paper woman that represents winter is burnt to signify the bidding of farewell to winter.

Maslenista is a cheerful and colourful holiday in Russia though it didn’t appear to be so in the old days. It was a day of remembrance of the dead, and the burning of the feminine effigy signified her funeral! Over time, Russians turned the sombre event into a festival to include merry pastimes – such as troika and horse-riding, singing, and also the storming of a snow fortress troika – that lasted a week long.

For the Christians, Maslenista marks the last week before the typically 40-day long Lent fasting period that precedes Easter.

Today Maslenista is a huge event that draws locals and tourists. The Moscow City Committee for Tourism organises the annual Blini Week Maslenitsa in numerous locations across the capital. Its 2007 promotional leaflet said: “… Russian people really like to feast.  And all the Russians are sincerely happy when the severe winter ends, the nature awakens, the sun warms the earth and the long-awaited spring comes. A day, or two, even three won’t be enough to celebrate it – it takes a whole week for the Russians to enjoy the farewell of cold winter thoroughly! That’s why it’s called “Wide Maslenista” – seven days of impetuous fun, reckless pleasures and solar mood, a great pleasure for both body and soul! That means sleigh rides, celebrations, fairs and show-booths, taverns full of people and sheer joy for all!”

During our stay in Moscow, we needn’t go far in search of Maslenista festivities. We had a taste and feel of Maslenista, first in M’s school that held the event on 3rd March 2006, followed by our building management on 4th March 2006 which sent out this invitation: “We would like to invite you to Winter Farewell Party, on Mac 4, 12-2pm in our Park. We will offer you traditional Russian food (hot pancakes, shushlik, strong and soft drinks and entertainment (folk music and games).

An air of festivities filled the school with indoor activities (including egg-painting) and outdoor activities – M with her classmates and her teacher Ms Holly; the effigy held up high and paraded before being burnt, 3 March 2006.

An air of festivities filled the school with indoor activities (including egg-painting) and outdoor activities – M with her classmates and her teacher Ms Holly; the effigy held up high and paraded before being burnt. (3 March 2006)

Another round of Maslenista fun at the park organised by our building management in the park, 4 March 2006.

Another round of Maslenista food and fun at the park organised by our building management in the park – M with a smiling babushka, the guys joined in the fun too; M and I imitated the effigy’s pose; thankfully they burnt the right effigy! (4 March 2006)

The following year 2007, spring evidently arrived earlier as Maslenitsa was celebrated by M’s school as early as 14th February, while our building management held it over the weekend of 17th February.

M showed off her painted spoon; out in the cold with her friends and teacher Ms Chalkley. (14 February 2007)

M showed off her painted spoon; out in the cold with her friends and teacher Ms Chalkley. (14 February 2007)

Outdoor fun and entertainment that ended with a bonfire. (14 February 2007)

Celebrating in our own backyard, with friends, family and loved one. (17 February 2007)

Celebrating in our own backyard, with friends, family and loved one. (17 February 2007)

Hello again, she’s the same smiling babushka whom M took a picture with last year; M with two other babushkas; M and I with the effigy before she burst into flames.

There were plenty of food ….

There were plenty of food ….

… and music and entertainment by a bear and its trainer, and a bonfire to mark an end to winter and the festivities. (17 February 2007)

 

Sunday’s Skate at Gorky Park

M AND I had our first skating experience today in 2006 at Gorky Park, Moscow.

Every winter Gorky Park transforms into a winter wonderland to the delight of skaters and cross-country skiers as the whole park – including its paths and walkways – becomes an ice-skating rink! How cool is that, pun intended.

During winter, many parks around Moscow open ice-skating rinks (eg. Izmailovo Park and Sokolniki Park) but Gorky Park remains one of the more popular ones, other than the rink at the Red Square.

That Sunday we made plans with a neighbour and his daughter and met up with local staff Tanya who came with her friend Helen and two daughters, at the entrance of Gorky Park. The Park, founded in 1928 and named after Russian writer Maxim Gorky, is a short drive from our home then, and it’s even within walking distance on a fair-weathered day.

Tanya led the way into the park and helped us rent the skates. We had a choice of placing our passports or cash as deposits for each pair rented, we obviously chose the latter.

She then led us to “каток для начинающих” (pronounced as “katok dlya nachinayushchikh” – ya, try this for a tongue twister!) which means “rink for beginners”. There were iron rails to hold on, much like the ballerina’s practice bars, except that our mission was to move forward along the bars whilst ensuring our feet stayed firmly grounded at all times during practice.

Once we were tired of the beginner’s area, we ventured out to join the rest, even though I was merely inching away while others sped by. M evidently had more fun than me as Tanya and Helen led her by the hands and took her cruising around the park a few times. I imagined there were numerous Irina Slutskaya and Evgeni Plushenko-wannabes in the crowd too.

As much as we enjoyed our outing, we only lasted 1.5 hours. Other than feeling numb (from the cold) we were feeling sore too (from the numerous falls). We didn’t stay long enough to enjoy its night time ice disco complete with music and lights show.

And that was our first AND last attempt at ice-skating for now 🙂

Hubby appeared ready to take on the world… erm, perhaps just the skating rink… erm, a rink for BEGINNERS, that is!; he held M’s hands briefly as did I, but it was a case of “the blind leading the blind” and M certainly didn’t hide her skepticism!

L-R: Help came in the form of locals Helen and Tanya, while the “greenhorns” took a picture at the triumphal arch that is the entrance of Gorky Park just before leaving; a closer look at the crest on the pillar – hammer and sickle (coat of arms of the Soviet Union), rising sun and a laurel wreath – all symbols of communism. .

Showing off our skates – stainless steel has replaced what were previously horse’s bones – there’s a size 37, a 32 and a 38; Tanya brought her own pair, naturally.

A little historical background on skates and skating provided by Where Moscow magazine, December 2007 issue… “Centuries ago, it was common to speak of “racing on bones”. They took two bones of a horse’s shin, sharpened the ends, abraded the narrow edges to turn them into skids and drilled small holes for straps. The results resembled skates… The first skating rinks in Moscow were arranged on the ponds and on the Moskva River.”

Skating at Gorky Park is said to be a tradition dating back to before World War II. According to some reports, as of last year, Gorky Park’s newly inaugurated enlarged ice-rink is now billed as “Europe’s largest”. It grew from 15,000 square meters to 18,000 square meters (according to my estimate, about the size of three football fields?). But Europe’s largest? Or perhaps comparable to Europe’s largest natural ice rink in Davos Platz, Switzerland (also 18,000 square metres)…