Arrived in Samara, Russia

Posted by Joel on Friday, January 27th, 2006

Today in Samara I saw a young boy of 12 or 13 hauling a snowboard. He then pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and made a phone call. This wouldn’t have been likely even ten years ago. Snowboards and cell phones are part of the new capitalist Russia. Samara is a town of extremes and the first thing I noticed was the extreme cold. When we arrived at the airport it was –20 Celsius (-2 Fahrenheit). We walked off the plane and were welcomed by a bone chilling wind. We then boarded an enclosed transport trailer pulled by a truck. The terminal was basically a large tin shed with a luggage carousel in the middle. The surrounding hangers and airport buildings were remnants of the Soviet era, simple, but functional. You won’t find Starbucks, luggage totes or ATM’s in this terminal. We negotiated a $50 cab ride to town and we were on our way.

After an intense ride (our cab driver was trying to break a speed record or something) we arrived at our hotel. Samara is a city of approximately 1.6 million people. It lacks the skyscrapers of most cities this size. As far as I can tell the tallest structure is a retired Russian rocket in the center of town. The Russian aerospace industry thrives in Samara and the people are proud of it. Industry is booming here. Alcoa moved in last year and now employees 8,000 locals. Chevy and Lada have a plant here, joining forces to build economical cars for the Russian Market. Coke also has a large bottling plant here. Labor is inexpensive - the education and skill levels are high. The city boasts at least three Universities.

Old Lada taxi cabs, the pride of the Russian auto industry, wiz past BMW’s and Nissans. A McDonalds sign sits near the tracks of an aging light rail system, a slow two car train that takes you from ones side of the city to the other. I counted 13 giant cranes on my first ride. New buildings are going up next to aging Soviet era public housing. It’s kind of sad really… The Soviet Union and communism had its share of problems, but surprisingly many people from older generations speak fondly of those days. As the new swallows the old will that era disappear forever?

We’ve already had several interesting interviews here. Filming in the cold is a new experience (had a camera stop working briefly at one point), but I’m visually stimulated by his place. Aesthetically it’s entirely different than anywhere we’ve been so far. The people here are extremely intelligent and as curious about America as we are about Russia. I’m keeping my eye on BBC and the growing intensity in Palestine and the Gaza strip. Looks like we’re going to have an interesting trip to Israel and Palestine in a month.

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