My, what big guns you have!

The past weekend was rife with reminiscences of wars past and present. On Friday evening, the American Consulate hosted a charity gala for children with HIV/AIDS. The AIDS epidemic has hit Russia particularly hard, and it seems that the growth rate per capita here is now the highest in the world. A frighteningly large percentage of those affected are young children. There are a few hospices in the region that take care of some of these kids, and the proceeds of the event went to support one of them.

It was a surprisingly swanky affair-- surprising for me only perhaps because the concept of a gala is totally foreign to me-- taking place at Vlad's Hotel Versailles. A couple hundred folks from the city (includings reps from various consulates) came out to donate funds, bid on auctioned goods, and sip yummy champagne. There were a number of performances as well-- some flamenco dancers, an ensemble of adorable kids playing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, etc.-- intersperced with the techno soundtrack and formal grandeur that seems to prevail each of the (many) holiday occasions here in Vlad. It just isn't an event without some sequins and house music. I love it.

The following morning, one of my students invited me out to one of Vladivostok's fortresses/museums. This particular fort is located less than ten minutes by foot from my dormitory and less than two from the city's main boardwalk and ferris wheel. And, I mean... wow. The inside of the fort was converted into a museum during the 60's (I think?), while the outside looks rather like a crazy bellicose sculpture garden with guns, guns, and bigger guns galore.
Originally built in the 1860's when the city was officially "founded" by the Russians, it saw numerous renovations to keep pace with the threats of both civil and world wars. While I'm sure such forts or relics of such forts exist somewhere in the U.S., I know sure haven't had the chance to hug missiles back home. A fact for which I think I'm rather thankful? The concept of encountering war quite literally on one's civillian doorstep is totally mind boggling and heartbreaking and... entirely unfamiliar to me, personally. But as I continue learning more and more about the impact of war here in the Russian Far East-- and in the Far East, generally-- through books, lectures, new friends and aquaintances, the thought (if not the actuality) has struck closer and closer to home.

I dare you not to throw your trash away in the proper receptacle in a place like this. Heh.

At noon, we waited outside for them to fire one of the guns. For all that we were waiting for the express purpose of seeing this happen, I still gave an entirely undignified yelp when it did. Such is life... one undignified yelp after the next.


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