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An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

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An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

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A Russian journalist visited Corpus Christi and D.C. and here’s what he learned

Reprinted from the Corpus-Christi Caller-Times

Greetings, Corpus Christi!

My name is Pavel Alekseev and I’m a journalist from Russia who spent the past two weeks in your God blessed town. The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) involved me and 20 other journalists from Russia to participate in  its global exchange program. The first three days we had meetings and  lectures in Washington, D.C., then all members of our group  were sent to newsrooms across various parts of the U.S.

I’m happy that fate brought me to Corpus Christi, Texas. Here I learned what real hospitality is,  experienced a baseball game for the first time, swam in the ocean for the first time and ate spicy Mexican food for the first time. I met wonderful people, and I had the honor to work  with a friendly team  at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

What was D.C. really like?

While I was in Russia, the capital of the United States seemed to me like a boring office-administrative type place. And what was my surprise when I arrived and saw how squirrels jump from tree to tree, fish splash in the Potomac River and  the incredible beauty of blooming flowerbeds.

Pavel Alekseev flashes the peace sign near the White House.
(Photo: Pavel Alekseev/Special to the Caller-Times)

It seems the gardens’ owners are competing with each other over who can bring more beauty to the world. The architecture is unique, but what shocked me the most was I didn’t see any abandoned houses. All the old mansions that I saw  were brilliantly restored with fresh-painted sides.The fitness tracker on my arm thrice a day reported that I had walked the next six miles, and this was not enough for me, I was walking again and again. In the end, my sneakers looked like Forrest Gump shoes, if you know what I mean.

It would be unfair to say that I saw only the good. I was surprised by the tents of many homeless people standing around the city. Everywhere in Washington, D.C. pedestrians crossed the road to a red light. And day and night from all over the city came the endless sounds of police and fire sirens that prevented my sleep. (By the way, I did not see a single fire or crime, but the emergency vehicles flew somewhere with great speed).

The visit to Corpus Christi

The flight to Corpus Christi was so light, almost unnoticed. And I did not expect that an airport at a small city would be so beautiful and modern. My hosts Jim and Beverly Naismith met me. It was funny when they tried to apologize that “Corpus Christi’s airport is so small.”

The first thing I encountered in Texas was a temperature difference. (I know, your face just broke into a satisfied smile). I have already begun to get used to the fact that in America, air conditioning works in any room. And when, finally, I went out into the street, it seemed to me that I got into cloud or a Russian bathhouse (we call it “banya”). In Cheboksary in the middle of the summer temperature, it can be up to 80 degrees for a few days, but the average temperature rarely exceeds 69 degrees. Frankly speaking, it’s freezing in winter, it’s making one meter drifts, and the temperature drops to -5 degrees. Our city is located on the Volga River, and this has absolutely no effect on the weather. We do not have tornadoes and hurricanes, although sometimes we have thunderstorms and strong winds, which occasionally tear trees and break roofs.

A man from the Russian hinterland, such as me, as a rule, knows about Texas by hearsay. First of all, Texas for us is the motherland of Walker, the Texas Ranger. So I flew 7,000 miles, expecting to see prairies, cacti and cowboys on horseback. In fact, everything was completely different. I got into a modern city with a developed infrastructure. I was pleasantly surprised that in Texas almost no one smokes, and there are practically no drunk people on the street. At least because in the summer smoking cigarettes or hookah is an ordinary picture for our city.

The beach, Walmart and religion

The proximity of the Gulf of Mexico implies a tourist potential. My new friends took me to Padre Island. How great I spent my time there! Numerous cafes, seafood cuisine, impressive sandy beaches. One of the most vivid impressions that I will never forget was the gentle evening light of the sun, riding on high waves, juicy sweet corn cooked on a campfire and absolutely incredible dessert – s’mores! (I’m sure my daughter will love them  as soon as she tries it).

Many people I met recommended  I go to Walmart to know the Americans from a different angle. This store impressed me with its scale. Perhaps, there you can buy everything. In Russia, due to political turmoil and sanctions, some of your favorite products are no longer sold.

I concluded for myself that there are also many believers in Corpus Christi. And I saw churches of different religious movements. One Sunday my hosts invited me to a Baptist church, and there I even met Mayor Joe McComb. It is surprising how much religion brings people together and makes it easier to build relationships. Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism are predominantly popular in Russia. Other religions are less common, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are generally prohibited. Our government often tries too hard to find extremists inside the country.

But I could not even imagine how far Corpus Christi is as an industrial center. You have the fourth largest seaport in the country! And around it is a vast industrial zone. Oil refining, the production of fuel and materials – thousands of workplaces and a guarantee of the welfare of society. It was nice to see such an incredible combination of tourist paradise and industrial Klondike.

Seeing America’s favorite pastime

I didn’t  know that the city has its own baseball team, and when I was invited to a game, I gladly agreed, since this was the first baseball game in my life. The Hooks played against Amarillo Sod Poodles. Since I absolutely do not know the rules, it was just interesting for me to observe the emotions of people. The spirit caught in moments when the ball flew out of the net and threatened to fall on someone’s head.

However, it was a lot of fun. I realized that baseball is not only a sport. This is the show, as well as a great way to cheer up a lot of people. In Russia, baseball is not common at all, but in many places people professionally play the old Russian game lapta. Some even say that this is a “Russian baseball” with a five-century history.

What are the differences I saw?

Differences of our countries begin at the household and food levels. For example, the real quest for me was an American shower. I had to watch Google to figure out how to turn it on. In Russia, usually, we use separate regulators for hot and cold water, as well as a flexible shower hose. Here the shower is traditionally rigidly mounted in the wall. It is completely unusual for me that people here do not defend houses with a fence, do not use durable steel doors, do not put bars on the windows. (and sometimes do not even lock the door at night). In Russia it is difficult even to imagine! Although I would not say that robberies often happen in our homes . Simply, we prefer to live according to the principle “My home – is my castle!” In regions with cold winters, houses are often built from solid logs or bricks.

Your city is not much smaller than my city of Cheboksary, but we suffer from traffic jams, and you absolutely do not. I also realized that this is part of the local lifestyle – having a truck. Even city dwellers who do not carry anything heavier than bags from a supermarket, proudly drive pickups with huge engines. I think this is because gasoline in Texas is cheaper than in Russia, while the income of people is much higher. In the Russian province the average salary does not exceed $500 per month. Therefore, people are starting to get rid of cars or trade in SUVs for small cars.

Food in America is a fusion of the most delicious from all parts of the world. Sometimes, however, questions are caused by the volume of the portion and the combination of ingredients. While in Corpus Christi I managed to enjoy Indian, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, American, and, finally, Mexican restaurants. (It should be noted, I’ve learned a lot of new words from the menu!).

But what surprised me – how much people love everything fried. During the very first days I realized that fried bacon, eggs and sausages are the main products for breakfast. Here you can combine everything with bacon: once I even saw shrimps wrapped in fried bacon. Finally, when I decided to ease my diet, I ordered a fitness breakfast. And what do you think? There was grapes, scrambled eggs, slices of watermelon. And two strips of fried bacon! In Russia, people usually eat different kinds of cereals for breakfast, as well as yogurts, cottage cheese, or sandwiches with uncooked sausage and cheese. I was amazed that people in U.S. do not drink tea. (An exception can be made for ice tea). In Russia everyone drinks tea. Moreover, Russians believe that  with the hot weather hot tea helps to sweat and cool your body.

The beauty of South Texas

I love nature and its gifts. And I realized that Corpus Christi is a great place to live in harmony with it. Like in Washington, here you can see squirrels on the streets. I saw a very nice family of possums. During  a boat trip I met peaceful dolphins. I was surprised by the variety of birds – from miniature hummingbirds that flew to the house where I lived, to huge pelicans who hunted fish and at the same time fought off pesky gulls. However, for me it was a surprise that oranges, apricots, magnolias, peaches and walnuts do not grow on the streets in such a warm and humid place. On the other hand, they told me that you can grow bananas here. In the Chuvash Republic, where I live in Russia, the climate is temperate, so our main crops are potatoes and apples. Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, we have to grow in greenhouses.

Corpus Christi has its southern charm. Although the city is lined with streets, it is still rather arched, stretched along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I feel here as a man from the far north, because before that I had seen palm trees only in resort areas of Egypt or Turkey. I like the wide, sunlit streets. I enjoy the trills of various birds. Flower beds and shrubs are everywhere.

It became funny to me that it was incredibly difficult for an ordinary American to pronounce my name on the first attempt. (Alekseev – try it yourself). It also turned out that many locals consider Russia to be a single large country with a single climate (naturally, snow and frost all year round) and one for all Russian language. Meanwhile, in Russia there are about 85 regions, many of which, apart from Russian, have their own national language. Of course, we have northern and southern territories. And people in southern Siberia can easily afford the cultivation of watermelons and other heat-loving crops.

Learning about each other

We in Russia think that we know what Americans think of us. Traditionally: vodka, bears, balalaikas, matryoshkas (nesting dolls) and communism. Fortunately, for me it was a pleasant surprise. People greeted me with joy, and I spent many hours answering questions about Russian culture, music and lifestyle. I realized that in America, all people from Russia are perceived as Russians. Meanwhile, representatives of more than 190 nations live in our country in various areas. Often, people from different regions of Russia have external differences and different accents. And if you are planning to visit Russia, I recommend not to limit a trip only by St. Petersburg or Moscow.

In Russia, I work in an independent inter-regional online media. We write about the problems of society, highlight the abuse of power, manifestations of civic activism and any cases of human rights violations. Journalists of such publications have a hard time. At times we are being hunted by the state, the diseased points of which we demonstrate to society. You all recently may have heard about investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was arrested on suspicion of drug manufacturing and distribution. Many world media stood up to defend him, and in just a few days the Russian authorities decided to drop the charge because of failure to prove his guilt. Such false accusations against unwanted people have become a sad tradition in our country.

Here in south Texas, I learned that in America there are also difficulties in realizing human rights. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants in search of a better life come to the United States across the southern border, and then suffer for a long time in the cramped camps. Lack of food, medicine, poor living conditions – these issues have repeatedly raised the local press. By the way, there are also a lot of migrants in Russia. Basically, they are residents of Central Asia and refugees from the east of Ukraine. And they are also have difficulties.

Here, in the Caller-Times, I was well received. Every day I  fell asleep with a smile, remembering how friendly and welcoming my new American friends are. During my practice, I realized that it is necessary to move boldly toward goals. Our media has something to learn from yours. I was shown the tools for working with multimedia content. I first saw the practice of accessing media via the website by subscription. Most importantly, I realized that freedom of the press is not only the right to speak freely about everything. It is also a huge responsibility for your publications. I want to believe that my visit will contribute, even slightly, to understand that the Russians and Americans are not enemies, and not even opponents. Government and people are always different things. Here in friendly and curious Texas I felt this very keenly.

The Caller-Times hosted Russian journalist Pavel Alekseev as part of theInternational Center for Journalists’ program.