Comment: Show me the Roubles

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Why "Grandmother Russia' is getting younger and richer every day, by Mickey Charles, president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US.

The Soviet Union, the USSR, has undergone more changes than popstars Cher and Lady Gaga combined. She has had to reinvent herself, face the reality of many of her children leaving and becoming independent, democracy of sorts sneaking in and Western influence on the population becoming a sobering reality – from the establishment of the Russian Mafia to a new generation emulating its counterparts to the east and anxious for more of the same. The growth of late has been unexpectedly rapid with the populace seeking to explore more of its own boundaries as the country beckons outside its borders to the rest of us to come and have a look. Bottom line? Russia is on the fast track to display its rich cultural heritage and great attractions of the landscape, government and people. It is now, therefore, a major tourist attraction and you must be able to set your mind to vent itself of all fear of going there – if you can afford it given the rising prices of airlines and hotels who have blacked out any dialogue or spectre of a worldwide financial crisis. Get your list out and be certain that it contains travel around the Golden Ring of ancient cities, a cruise on the big rivers like the Volga (doubting, of course, that you can name any of the others for 100 roubles or so), and some longer journeys on the famous Trans–Siberian Railway – beginning in Moscow at the Yaroslavsky Rail Terminal and ending in Vladivostok, a port on the Pacific Ocean. Capture the view from a train window on the rail route that spans two continents, 12 regions and 87 cities across the largest country in the world. Or, you can go see the flick, Transsiberian and find yourself aboard, visually speaking, the train that takes seven days to get from China to Mongolia and onto Russia. This is a movie in the tradition of Hitchcock and Agatha Christie – a marriage of travel and intrigue where Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play a married American couple, Roy and Jessie, hop on the train in Beijing (then called Peking during the time period that the movie is set) with the aim for a little excitement on their journey home from a stint as missionaries. Conversely, see the movie and make the trip yourself – for however long you wish to which cities appeal to you. A passport alone, by the way, will not work. You will be required to purchase a visa. OK, grab a pen because this is not going to be the usual controversial, opinionated, predictive, watch your back and what someone is doing wrong diatribe. We are going travelling. On to the obvious then, the new Russia, the grandmother that wants to share with you and enhance, expand upon, your knowledge of one of her favourite places these days. The current and former capitals of Russia are Moscow and St Petersburg and they are, arguably, among the world cities we must visit during our lifetime(s). Museums, theatres, churches, engaging with the people themselves. You will find them as interested in you as you are in them. Hows the economy over there? Funny you should ask€ยช. More billionaires live in Moscow than any city in the world. You gotta be kidding, right? !Welcome to reform. It is what happens in a new market–based and globally integrated economy coupled with rapid privatisation process where major state–owned firms were turned over to politically connected oligarchs. One of the more interesting shortfalls of a new Russia. The other is the massive industrialisation of the former Soviet republics – notably in machinery – defence and aircraft industries are huge employers and players on the international stage. Then there are sectors such as automotive, electronics, telecom, agriculture, trade, information technology, nanotechnology, transportation, construction, massive investments, mergers and acquisitions. All of this comes under the heading of if it looks good, feels good, smells and tastes good, contains a profit, feast upon it. That is exactly what the new Russia has done. Commendably capitalistic. So much for Karl Marx. And, speaking of industries, let us not forget gaming. . . the nice word for gambling. It is neither black nor white, not black market nor condoned. The proletariat simply look the other way, go wink, wink and, suddenly, the world is grey. How much is involved? In USD, billions. And the rake converts to Bentleys, yachts, estates and living the good life, the very good life that was not really available to anyone pre–internet and the world of who do you think is going to win today? It is the same in China where bookmakers run as wild as rice fields and those in charge are busy sending their techs on hacking missions to interrupt anyone that they sense does not agree with governmental doctrines foisted upon the still striving to make a yen or two daily. Welcome to progress. Meanwhile, back in Russia, culture is on display. Depending upon your definition of rich at a given moment (money aside), Russia was there when with respect to the arts. . . literature, philosophy, classical music, ballet (Bolshoi), architecture, painting, cinema and animation plus a strong tradition in technology racing with the US primarily to be the first at anything at all and paying little attention to Israel, the acknowledged Silicon Valley of the world in recent years. Think, if you will, of the UK and US when it comes to language, the British who feel they created it and the Americans that believe they improved upon it immensely and have set the tone and pace of it for the world at large. Then have a look at Russias 160 ethnic groups who speak some 100 languages; almost 150m of them speak Russian, followed by Tatar with some 5m plus, Ukrainian with 1. 8–2m and so on. But, Russian is the official state language although the republics can do what they will. Easy way out is to find someone, anyone, that speaks English, and most where you will be going on your sojourn. If Google and Microsoft can have Russian branches, as they do, and the national domain, . ru. has long since passed the million domain names level. Then it is safe to accept the fact that Russia is in with both hands, feet and every mental faculty and technical edge they can pull together. This is the race for space technology and exploration all over again except that, this time, the starting gate is on the ground in a laptop, not a space capsule. The war has changed the playing field and brought it back down to Earth, where the internet is the launch pad and the preparatory school is knowledge of poker, roulette, blackjack, odds, sports and risk management. Piece of cake. Think sports, think Russia, think Olympics to send a physical message to the rest of the globe. That was then. Oh yes, that mentality still exists but it has expanded to understanding basketball, ice hockey, soccer (football), rugby, tennis, American football, even baseball and the worldly urge to wager on the outcome of an event, any event, anywhere. Combine it with all else and Grandmother Russia is getting younger and richer every day. Lots to do, see, enjoy, photograph and more but leave the gambling to them. You go and be a tourist and dont be ashamed to prepare for the trip by reading up on etiquette while there, customs and expectancies. Hey, it is their house and you are just visiting. Remember that. Have fun, gather up some photographic memories, a few souvenirs and some e–mail addresses. Now. . . go. . . enjoy!!!About Mickey CharlesMickey Charles is president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US. For further information about The Sports Network, visit: www. sportsnetwork. com. The Sports Network2200 Byberry RdHatboro, PA 19040 Tel: +1 (215) 441–8444 Fax: +1 (215) 441–5767

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