Our Large Russian Friend

Staring down the barrel of a Russian tank, I felt a feverish jolt running through my vertebrae. The tingling seemed a primitive reaction to confronting my mortality. Then again, it could have been a pulled muscle. I strained something while craning my neck to reach the canon’s eye-line.

“Are you alright?” Greg asked, watching me rub my neck. To avoid a height joke at my expense, I answered with the mortality-jolt.

“Maybe you just yanked something in your neck,” he said. “Looked like you were straining over there.” He paused. “That’s the trouble with being so short.”

Neck slightly off-kilter, I now scanned the machine from a more height-appropriate level. Like a T. rex, this monster bore teeth—heavy duty armor, treads tougher than brick, and two .50 caliber machine guns perched atop the main cannon.

“That probably fired HE-Frags,” Greg said, indicating the neck-adjusting main cannon. I raised a curious eyebrow. “High explosive fragmentation, good for soft targets.”

“What’s a soft target?”

“People,” he said, “might be one example. The shells are massive, and they basically just explode and take out anything within range.”

I didn’t ask how the Russians handled non-soft targets.

Greg and I had entered the military museum, Beijing’s trove of historical, international weaponry. Our large Russian friend had Japanese, American, Chinese, and French sisters. The extended family included bombers, anti-aircraft guns, rocket-launchers, and mid-range missiles.

Some cousins

A few cousins of our large Russian friend.

At the roots of the family tree, we found throwing stars, nun-chucks, and replicas of wooden warships. The museum also displayed a few golden swords, exchanged by emperors as declarations of peace, alliance, or war.

In our wanderings we came to an interactive children’s set. It looked like a playground, but the see-saws had turret-guns and the sandbox housed landmines. Boys scrambled through the make-believe trenches, pulling each other’s hair, mounting turrets, sobbing after falls, waving dated handguns, and taking juice breaks. A few chaperons made sure the rugrats didn’t bayonet each other or climb to the top of the tree-house (massive, three-gunned anti-aircraft machine.)

Make-Believe Gun

Want to play kick-ball instead?

We next went to the spy section. The display case had pens, watches, phones, and keys, all doubling as murder weapons. “If I had to be killed,” I told Greg, “I’d rather go with those high-explosive frags from the tank. I wouldn’t want to be taken down by a pen.”

“Hmm,” Greg said, dangling a ballpoint. “In that case I won’t kill you now.” He paused. “I’ll wait till I have a tank.” Greg and I agreed that we had tired of imagining different methods of murdering each other. So we headed out.

But what tour of guns would be complete without politics? As we checked a map for the exit, Greg and I found our dose: “Hall of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”

I guess we call it the “Korean War” to save space in textbooks.


About rickaltieri

The account rickaltieri is shared by Gregory Kristof and Rick Altieri. Greg graduated Scarsdale High School in 2010 and will attend Harvard University in 2011. Rick graduated Regis High School in 2010 and has deferred enrollment at Amherst College until 2011. During their gap year, Rick and Greg will take Mandarin classes in Beijing at Tsinghua University, volunteer at a local school, teach English, and work at a newspaper.
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3 Responses to Our Large Russian Friend

  1. Ella says:

    Hey Ricky! I saw this link thru Ginny and can’t tell you how much I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I am finding myself chuckling to myself to the looks and stares of my theatre organization and management classmates lol. I am excited to read what else comes your way during your time in China =)

  2. Lucas Wozny says:


    You and your Oriental comrade are incompetent, bumbling fools. And at least one of you is a Lilliputian.

    Be well,

  3. Rich Altieri says:

    I agree with Lucas

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