Our Belarus Trip (2 of 2)

(Continued from yesterday)

One of our Belarusian friends is a gifted singer who recorded 3 CDs, 2 in English and 1 in Russian. She has a deep devotional life and her songs reflect her faith. Here is a snipet:

We attended a baptismal service on Sunday, which is rare. Official statistics in 2011 cite 59% of Belarusians are believers, of which 82% are Orthodox, 12% Catholics, and 6% all other denominations, including Protestants, cults, Jews and Muslims. The percentage born-again is therefore small. Making a decision is easy, but public witness by baptism is hard to come by.

Protestant baptism service

Protestant baptism service

The church’s music director has a strong tenor voice and tours often to present in other churches. Here is a sample:

A challenge we faced cooking an authentic oriental mean is the lack of condiments to season the food. This is the only Vietnamese grocery store we know of in Minsk that has a supply of Chinese and SE Asian spices to prepare a decent meal. We actually saved up seasoning packets from instant noodles to bring on trips to help out in a crunch!

Vietnamese grocery store in Zhdanovichi Market

Vietnamese grocery store in Zhdanovichi Market

Of course we can always eat out, budget permitting. The best Chinese restaurant we tried in Minsk is “Chinatown”, opened just last week and where our friend is a junior partner. It is a first class diner with good food, excellent decor and service, and reasonable prices. Many of the decorations are imported from China, as is the chef who comes from Szechuan. We were the first customers on opening day, and it does not disappoint!

Ready for a hearty meal!

Ready for a hearty meal!

Among our Vietnamese merchant friends, the mood is sombre because of the poor economy. The Belarusian currency had depreciated 1/3 from US$1 = 10,000 BLR (Belarusian Ruble) to US$1 = 15,000 BLR, and sales had plummeted. Some shops have closed and the owners returned to Vietnam. Those staying open are eating into their capital in the hope that business will improve by year-end.

Many stores closed as a result of the economic downturn.

Many stores closed as a result of the economic downturn.

Despite the gloomy outlook, life goes on. Believers are helped by their faith and hope for a brighter future. Here we are in front of the white Holy Spirit Cathedral, a famous landmark in Minsk dating to nearly 400 years ago. The original building burned down about 100 years later, and the Bernadine monastery was rebuilt over 270 years ago.

Holy Spirit Cathedral (Orthodox)

Holy Spirit Cathedral (Orthodox)

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Our Belarus Trip (1 of 2)

We recently took a trip to Minsk, Belarus. One of the first things you need to do upon arrival is to register at the OGIM – Отдел по гражданству и миграции within 5 business days. If you stay in a hotel, they’ll do it for you automatically. However, since we were invited by friends, they have to take us to the Citizenship and Migration Department, fill out the form, pay 90,000 BLR (US$6)/person, and spend half a day there to do it. Don’t lose your migration card, you’ll need it to leave the country.

Citizenship and Migration Department

Citizenship and Migration Department

One of the first places we visited was the Zhdanovichi flea-market, which has several acres of both covered and outdoor stores selling everything from clothing, shoes, electronics, building materials, restaurants, and even sub-machine guns!

Fruit market within Zhdanovichi

Fruit market within Zhdanovichi

There are many Vietnamese restaurants in the market, over 20 of them called Сайгон (Saigon), possibly because they were a franchise, but with different layouts. The menus, however, offer essentially the same things, at identical or almost the same prices. One look may give you “sticker shock”, as a bowl of pho (beef noodles) costs about 55,000 Belarusian Rubles (BLR). But don’t worry, as the exchange rate is about US$1 = 15,000 BLR. So it costs only US$3.67, and you become a “millionaire” if you have as little as US$67!

One of over 20 Saigon Restaurants.

One of over 20 Saigon Restaurants.

Menu of traditional Vietnamese dishes

Menu of traditional Vietnamese dishes

One of the best deals in Minsk is a metro ride. A single ride costs only 4,500 BLR i.e. US$0.30! In comparison, a one-way subway ride in Toronto costs C$3 or about US$2.40, 8 times as much! Unlike Toronto or Hong Kong, subway stations have few advertisments.

"Moscow" metro station.

“Moscow” metro station.

Our favorite supermarket is корона (Crown), near a State University and where many foreigners, including students, have lunch and do their grocery shopping. Most prices are very reasonable, except when you buy imported brands.

Korona, or Crown Supermarket.

Korona, or Crown Supermarket.

July 3 is Belarus’ Independence Day, celebrated by fireworks at 10 pm. This shot was taken from our apartment.

Independence Day fireworks.

Independence Day fireworks.

(To be continued)