Weekly retrospective 13-04-2014

A highlight of the past week was a reunion with an old friend from Beijing. To protect her identity, when I was blogging from China I always referred to her as the Siberian Rose; I’ll continue that here. A native of Omsk, she was in St. Petersburg for a seminar and we managed to catch up on two separate evenings. She’s been based for the last few years in Luoyang, where she works as a Chinese-Russian interpreter for Sinopec, the Chinese state-owned oil company. Her work takes her a lot to Kazakhstan, and it was interesting to hear her stories about that, as well as how she’s getting on generally. It’s been nearly four years since we last met in person.

On the second evening we went to a restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt to try out a traditional Russian dish that the Rose really misses in China; I forgot to note the name, but it’s not unlike an over-sized samosa. I think they may have been Өчпочмак, though that’s not what I saw on the menu; it’s a Tatar dish, which would make sense as the Rose is a Tatar. Much to her disgust, I had one of the vegetarian options, with a potato, mushroom, and onion filling. The Rose insists that they need to have a meat filling for the true Russian experience!

Russian food in general seems to be much healthier than the heavily-processed stuff I was tending to eat in the UK. Portions are smaller, and there don’t seem to be as many additives. Colleagues have noted that food goes off much more quickly here, so people tend to buy food for immediate use. Of course, it may be just that I have more time to cook ‘real food’ now that I no longer have to work insane hours, but I’ve gone down two holes in my belt in the three months that I’ve been in Russia. It helps that I get around by metro, which involves lots of walking to and from the stations, as well as training in martial arts and Cossack dance! (See my other blog, Sing Dance Fight). The Rose commented that I’m looking good these days, which was a bit of a morale-booster!

On the topic of food, I saw a mouth-watering article on Singaporean foods. Although I’ve been mostly vegetarian since 1990, I did go back to eating meat for a couple of years while I was in Singapore, so I’ve tried all of these. It really made me miss Singapore, and its blend of cultures! Every country has its specialties, though. Here in Russia, I’m eating a lot of pelmeni (small boiled dumplings; the vegetarian versions are filled with either mushrooms and veg, or with potato puree). I’m also drinking a lot of kefir, a fermented non-alcoholic milk drink. It’s delicious. I wish they were widely available in the UK!

I read an interesting article this week on developments in climate change and peak oil, which is worth your taking a look at; the author, Gail the Actuary, is not only a good writer, but she bases her articles firmly in reliable data. An article elsewhere looks at the production data of the US shale oil fields, and concludes that fracking is nowhere near living up to the claims made by its supporters.

Counterpunch magazine have published a very interesting account of a road trip through Ukraine; the author, Andre Vltchek, talks to ordinary people on the ground.

Bringing those two topics together, it seems that the threats being made by the West to impose sanctions on Russia as a result of its annexation of the Crimea may have major unintended consequences. Russia needs to find alternative markets now, and this means it’s looking to China. Negotiations between the two countries have been ongoing for some time, but weren’t progressing because the Chinese weren’t prepared to pay the price the Russians wanted. As a result of the threat of Western sanctions, Russia may agree to the Chinese price. The Chinese get cheap energy; the Russians get an assured market. The West gets left out, and becomes less relevant and/or important to both Russia and China.

In fact, all the indications are that China and Russia between them are close to creating a new international system, one dominated by the BRICS and other developing economies – with the US in particular losing its relevance. An excellent article by Ian Welsh discusses how the US dollar’s stranglehold on the oil trade is close to being broken. Once that happens, the US economy will be in deep, deep trouble.

This is the background to an otherwise odd article by the ex-NATO chief, George Robertson. I explored this in a blog post, Scotland’s Game of Thrones, concluding that Westminster would rather lose Scotland and keep their permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council than vice-versa.

CNN look at how the Greek economy is still a mess. Resilience.org look at how the amount of rubbish we’ve thrown into the oceans is destroying ecosystems. In China, a website devoted to Old Beijing is being donated to history institutions, due it’s founder’s ill-health.

Useful skills for coming hard times… This looks to be an interesting book: The Market Gardener, while for useful information on bread-making, I’d like to read this: Tartine no 3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole.

Inter-species interaction! Dog and crow play together:

And finally, how a Norwegian skydiver was nearly taken out mid-air by a falling meteorite:


Image credit: Aller-retour / Round trip by user Jérôme on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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