Friday, August 11, 2006

Today's random taxi cab driver

Today's taxi driver had a russian accent, so I asked him if he was from Russia. When he said yes, I told him that when I was a kid, I read books published by Mir, in particular some by Yakov Isidorovich Perelman. He knew Perelman as well, and in his bookshelves back in Russia, among perhaps 1500 books, he had 3 books by Perelman.

What a nice conversation followed! He told me about Russia, and how the Jewish community established there, coming from Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and finally to this town which sounded like Hazaria, where they flourished because they traded things like silk from China, back in the year 700 or so.

His rudimentary English only made it more interesting. He had been a military guy for 30 years. He was a radio set engineer, and built nearly 500,000 radio sets. He was proud because his radio sets had been in Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, even Che Guevara had used them. He also built radio sets to control missiles (and he clarified that while the plane went bum with the missile, his radio set was safe on the ground).

He also related how if you had Jewish family then your military possibilities were capped because at that time the KGB would only allow Russians. Even though he was a Russian orthodox, his wife and other family members were Jewish. This brought him many problems. He told me one day the KGB person came over and told him that his top rank would be Major because his family was not 100% Russian.

He said he didn't like communists, fascists, or any of those guys. And that while there were communists in power, even though they were bad, at least they imposed a Russian point of view on things. Once they were gone, then all sorts of nasty stuff appeared: fascists, nationalists, and people with an exaggerated pride in their country --- even with skinheads wearing swastikas, of all things.

He told me how one Russian lady was stopped in a country road with signs of "Jewish => Go to Israel" by these crazy people, and that she was killed with bombs, even though she was Russian. He had an opportunity to speak to people like this, and recalled the conversation. Apparently he was in his home town, where most people are Russian and there is only a small Jewish minority. He asked these guys why would them, Russian people, tell Jewish people to go to Israel. Their answer was that they had killed Christ. But, he complained, Christ was Jewish! Their answer? No, Christ was Russian. "We have idiots in Russia, too".

He added that he had studied English when he was younger, but that he had forgotten most of it because at the time he was told America was bad and that it was full of bad people. He used to think that he, a military person, would go to the Moon before going to America. So, when he came here, he studied very hard for a few months and that then at least he was able to talk with others in English.

He mentioned that, despite all the bias to the contrary, America was a good place and was full of good people. Then he compared things a bit. He said that indeed, people here were good, and that would helpfully tell him where to turn and where to go if he didn't know the exact directions (he apologized for his lack of experience, as he started driving 3 months and 3 weeks ago). But that while in Russia people would like to read a lot, here people would be nice but uninterested. In his own words: "No study, no read. Many people talk Irak, Afghanistan, they cannot know where. They don't know difference, Austria and Australia". Alas, the convenient newspaper poll would most likely prove him true. And with that, we arrived at the destination.

Simply fantastic. I wish I had had my video camera to tape the interview.

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