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Oi, I still need to write about last Saturday’s adventure. But not today. Today I need to work on my thesis for a bit. It’s due in two weeks and I’m way behind on the writing. Things I have been doing this week instead of writing:
1. Conducting interviews. This is for the thesis, which is good, but these interviews are in Russian and they are wordy and Kostia has to transcribe them for me and that’s going to take forever, and from all that work only a little bit will actually make it into the thesis.
2. Teaching English. I’ve got plenty of work, and every day it seems someone else calls or asks if I can teach them. I don’t want to turn anyone away, as earning money is also a priority right now, but I’ve got to finish this thesis!
3. Harry Potter. I finished the last book, and we went to see the movie yesterday. The book was good, the movie was great – even dubbed into Russian. By the way, about that spoiler I “almost” heard last week, well, I guess I heard enough of it for it to be a real spoiler. But it’s OK, it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book.
OK, at least I can post the picture of the Cheburashka necklace now…
It looks like this, but mine is silver instead of gold, on a silver chain.
It’s a well-known fact that the Radius of Personal Space in Russia is much smaller than that in the West. In the U.S., when you stand in a line, you stand, what, 2 feet or so behind the person in front of you. If you stand that far away here, people won’t think you are committed to standing in the queue, and they’ll ask you whether you’re actually in line, or more likely, they’ll just wedge into the space.
On public transport during rush hour, the Radius of Personal Space is zero. Who knew you could get so intimate with complete strangers? Not content just to smush you with their shoulders and bellies, sometimes people will even push you out of the way with their hands. It’s considered uncultured to do this, but also not uncommon.
Yesterday I was in the grocery store, standing in a cramped aisle, looking at the juice selection at my left, when I felt something soft squish in to my right arm. I looked over and discovered a beer belly. I moved out of the guy’s way. No words were exchanged. But why not? Russian has perfectly good words like “razreshitye” (allow me through), “izvinitye” (sorry) , “prostitye” (pardon me), and “pozhaluista” (please). This was not a noisy, crowded metro at rush hour. Could this man have not used one or more of the words above?
I had an adventure today, one of the good kind, not the bad kind. I’m going to write about it and post pictures, but tonight I’m too tired. Instead I’m going to curl up with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – which Kostia heroically went out to find this morning while I was on my adventure – and try to read it all before I see a spoiler on the internet. I almost heard a spoiler on the radio in the marshrutka this morning, but I plugged my ears just in time.
How much does the book cost where you live? Here it costs the equivalent of US$50 – at the current exchange rate, which hit a new all-time low every day last week, which I can be happy about now because I have hardly any dollar savings anymore and am earning big fat rubles. Who ever thought they’d hear someone say that?
Sovok of the Week, also linked in the post below, is a site I’ve stumbled across a few times, always meaning to read more… I just took the opportunity to read more, and almost peed myself laughing. Self-deprecating humor is usually quite funny, but I find Russian emigrant self-deprecating humor to be just about the funniest thing there is, especially when written in impeccable English with a distinct Russian flavor. Kostia, not being an emigrant, does not share this view and thinks that people like Gary Shteyngart are sell-outs playing on stereotypes to sell books to Americans. Whatever. If you have spent time in Russia but are not a Russian residing in Russia, I think you will get a kick out of both Shteyngart and Sovok of the Week.
OK, we got the internets.
The installation guys came this morning just as Kostia was running off to teach a lesson, and they were the sort of guys who mumble and make me feel as though I don’t understand any Russian at all, even though at other times I don’t feel that I have any serious comprehension problems. After an awkward 45 minutes, we were hooked up.
Awhile after they left, there was a knock at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw a short, stocky older woman. I opened the door and she elbowed her way into the flat. “Um, who are you?” I said. “You open the door for the men but you’re afraid of me?” “I just don’t know who you are.” “I’m the building administrator. Close the door, you’ve got a skvoznyak. Where are they? They installed the thing? ” “Yes, they left already.” “They left?? I didn’t see them.” She left the flat, muttering something about the keys to the basement.
Grrr. This is not a rental building, the administrator shouldn’t be able to think she can just push her way into the apartment. Even our landlords, the nice couple who own this flat, overly-cautiously ask us permission to come over to fix something or pick up their mail, even though I trust them and I would have no problem with them having a key and coming over whenever they want, provided they knock first. This is a clear illustration of the generation gap in Russia: Sovoks vs. normal human beings.
The latest on the DSL is that it’s coming tomorrow. At the moment I’m using a public computer that is making WordPress formatting all weird, so I wasn’t able to post the picture of the Cheburashka necklace, and I can’t seem to make proper links… hopefully I’ll be able to do all of this in 24 short hours.
For all of you who expressed surprise that Kostia and I did not find the jobs of our dreams in Sweden and stay there for ever and ever, check this out: http://shazzerspeak.blog-city.com/dr_darling_phd_postal_carrier.htm . It was nice to read that, actually, to be reminded that it’s hard even for super-educated real Swedes to find jobs there, not just American losers like myself.
at what my friends Dyava and Lena gave me for my birthday – a silvery necklace with a Cheburashka pendant…
It was quite a busy week. Our friends Lenka and Dima, a Czech-Russian couple who live in Sweden, were visiting St. Petersburg, and an old college friend, Dmitry, took a break from visiting his grandparents in the Moscow region to come up to the Northern Capital for a couple of days. We gathered a few more friends together and rented my friend Miron’s tour boat for 3 hours one evening, like we did for my 30th birthday last summer. There is nothing more fun than cruising the rivers and canals of St. Petersburg on a summer evening with good friends, a couple mix CDs and an ample supply of alcohol.
In between boating and covering most of central St. Petersburg on foot several times over with our visitors, I managed to teach 15 academic hours and do some empirical research for my thesis. I spoke a lot of Russian this week, more than the usual practical necessities and household conversations with Kostia. My brain hurts.
Damn, I should have known it was too good to be true. The installation guys came, but it turns out we have a typical Russian bureaucratic problem. The building we live in isn’t a rental building – all of the flats are owned by individuals (we rent from a very nice young couple who just bought a second flat nearby), but the building itself is controlled or administered by some city government office. For companies to have permission to enter the building and install things like DSL cables, they have to make an agreement with the building manager. These agreements have an expiration date, so every year or something they have to meet with the building manager and negotiate a new fee. Now, it doesn’t cost the management anything to let these guys into the building, so basically this is just a scam on the management’s part.
So, as it turns out, the internet provider DID have an agreement with the building manager, as witnessed by the fact that our landlord’s friend and downstairs neighbor has DSL through this company, but it has expired, so they have to spend a couple of weeks arguing over whether the fee is going to be 10,000 rubles or 15,000 rubles before we can get our goddamn DSL installed. Basically the building manager has the ability to deny building residents the right to purchase services from any company that doesn’t pay them this exorbitant sum. I don’t even know how this works out for the internet provider – it seems like they aren’t doing a lot of installations in this building, so if they’re only getting a handful of new customers per year at the price of 15,000 rubles, when monthly charges for DSL are something like 750 rubles for the most expensive plan, they can’t be making much of a profit, if they aren’t in fact incurring a loss.
And unfortunately, Kostia and I can’t make an official complaint to the building management, because we’re just renters and not the official residents of the flat and therefore have no rights whatsoever.
I haven’t yet been to Russia’s Black Sea coast, so I can’t offer any personal reflections on whether it’s a bad idea or a very bad idea that Russia has been chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. My belief that it’s a bad idea stems from my general opposition to spending shitloads of money to build new stadiums and sport complexes ANYWHERE in this world when there are better ways to spend public funds and plenty of existing stadiums and sport complexes, not to speak of Russia, which could stand to improve teachers’, doctors’ and other public workers’ salaries, fight corruption, and generally do about a billion other things to improve the Russian people’s quality of life. The Olympics are a money-loser, not a money-maker, and while I appreciate the Olympic spirit and all, do we really have to pick a different city for each and every Games, until every city on the planet has an unused crumbling Olympic Village?
My friend Vadik, who has been to the Black Sea several times, offered another perspective last night: “If I wake up tomorrow and Sochi has been chosen I’m going to hate Putin even more. Russia is a huge country with one tiny piece of warm sea coast, where the whole country goes on holiday, and they’re going to take the last bits of untouched nature there and build elite fucking cottages.”