UKRAINE
UKRAINA


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13 SEPTEMBER

More Icons and Cobbled Streets

KYIV  Leafy, beautiful Kyiv in autumn time - this is a pleasant city with lots to see and do.  Many parks, museums and endless Orthodox churches - you should know by now that I love the Orthodox icon and am the prime suspect for any major icon smuggling activity.  I had thought that the frescoes of St Volodymir were great.  Wait till you see St Sophia's.  I visited UNESCO-listed St Sophia today and was amazed by the brightly coloured interior of this 10th century cathedral.
 
 St Sophia
The Magificent Frescoes of St Sophia

I also visited the Podil District of Kyiv, where there are other minor attractions, mostly miscellaneous museums on Ukrainian history and the Cossacks.  Souvenir stalls lined the Andriyivesky Street at Podil - I bought some t-shirts - McLenin, Hard Rock Café Kyiv and other assorted nonsense.  They even have the matryoshka dolls (those painted wooden dolls insides dolls, popularly known as "Russian dolls") of Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Hilliary Clinton, Jennifer Flowers and the infamous cigar !

In the evening, I met some friends of my LBS Ukrainian classmate Igor .  I had dinner with Oleksiy, his wife and a Scottish farmer-entrepreneur (and his Ukrainian wife, I think) who have been in Ukraine for 7 years, i.e., shortly after independence. Guess where we had dinner ?  A Thai restaurant !  And as a true blooded Southeast Asian, I dare say that the food was really authentic - my tom yam soup and seafood fried rice were fabulous.  Of course, the price was 5 to 10 times that of a normal meal in Ukraine.  Next to our table happened to be Mr Marchuk, presidential candidate.  Ukraine was in presidential election fever now, and discussions with various Ukrainians on this trip, as well as the free Kyiv Post gave me some insight into Ukrainian politics.  We had a serious discussion about whether to ask Mr Marchuk to take a photo for us (NOT with us). We ended up asking the waitress instead.  Didnít want to affect Mr Marchukís morale now that his ratings were behind the incumbent, Mr Kuchma, as well as an extremist anything-goes iron lady who wanted merger with Russia..  In any case, Kuchma won the final elections and Ukraine continues in her bumpy ride towards capitalism.

14 SEPTEMBER

Final Notes and Way Home

KYIV Got up early in the morning and went to the Monument for Ukrainian-Russian Unification - built during the Soviet era to commemorate the incorporation of Ukraine into the Russian Empire.  I wonder what will happen to this monument, or god forbids, will it ever be relevant again.

Packed up and went to the airport.  I survived the passport control without any problems.  Thank goodness.  A drink at the Irish Pub (why are they everywhere ?) and boarded the Lufthansa flight on time.  The adventure has ended, or has it ?  My final email explains it all.

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14 Sep 99
Dear All,

I have reached London at last.  I'd thought my adventure ended with the last email, but little did I knew that a mini-drama was to occur on the return flight from Kyiv to Frankfurt (where I transferred to a London flight).

The Lufthansa 2.5 hour flight was full, with about 1/3 of the passengers belonging to an Orthodox Jewish group from Israel and USA - wearing dark suits and hats.  They were a cheerful lot who seemed to enjoy travelling together.  All was well for most of the duration of the flight.  However, during the last 1/2 hour, as the plane had begun descending, one of them got himself drunk and repeatedly ignored the crew's requests to put on his belt.  And when the plane was finally in the process of landing, this chap suddenly stood up, ran across the plane towards the captain/flight cabin.  The crew shouted over the intercom system pleading him to return to his seat immediately - the plane is now tilting at an angle of 30'.  He tried to open the cabin door but thank goodness it was locked.  The crew had by now reached him and gotten him to sit just outside the cabin.  When the plane finally landed, many passengers burst into loud claps.  Safety at last.  The lady beside me placed her hands close to her heart and made a prayer.  The drama was over.  I wonder what would have happened if the captain's cabin wasn't locked.  Would this be the end of my odyssey ?

Back to grey, wet London, and to start work tomorrow.  I wonder how I can return to the rat race...
 

regards,

Wee Cheng
London
 
 

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