Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Lay of the Land

The work visa situation is still completely fucked -- teachers are employed on student visas, completely illegally, but at least those last 9 months -- other teachers have to work on business or cultural visas that only last 3 months, meaning they'll have to leave the country again. (While some schools will probably continue to foot the bill for these visa runs, the potential to get fucked over on the money, obviously, is high.)

Compounding these difficulties are the fact that embassies in different countries have different rules about how long it will take to get the visa, or even if it's possible to give you one at all. Some insist that foreigners can only get a Russian visa in their own country. Some ask for HIV tests, some don't.

I got a business visa to come visit Russia -- valid for three months, compared to a tourist visa which is only valid for one month. I got it in America, and did it by mail -- this ended up costing me a total of $450. $50 for an invitation, which I got from a company in Moscow -- $250 for the visa itself, $100 to get it in 3 days, and then $50 for postage.

Then of course you have to "register" in the area where you are living -- that costs a few bucks, also, depending how long you stay. (I think it was 2 rubles per day, and we had to sit around the office a few hours waiting, too.)

In addition to a Byzantine quota system for the number of visas that a company can issue, there are also some strange rules about registrations -- as a result, one of the guys I know who works here in Vodkaberg is going to have to make a trip to a different city to register.

To sum up: Russia could not possibly make it any more difficult to legally work now, and even visiting is a massive expensive pain in the ass.

When and if all the visa stuff for teachers get sorted, Russia will undoubtedly join the lengthy list of countries which demand certified (apostiled) copies of diplomas and criminal background checks for English teachers.

So -- miss alcohol and women? Sure. (The crippling hangovers, not so much.) Sorry I left for the Middle East? Nope.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Playing House Rather Than Just Playing Doctor

After living here for nine years, you'd think I'd be used to how filthy it is, but I find myself a bit taken aback by it.

For the Real Russian Experience, take a piss in a full garbage can and let it sit for a week, and then smell it as you look at these pictures:

This is what $500 a month gets you by way of an apartment in provincial Russia. (This would be considered basically a middle-class type of apartment and it's actually in a pretty good area.)

The apartment itself isn't so bad, although it's been redecorated recently "euro-remont" with cheap Chinese crap that doesn't work very well, and the washing machine has been placed in front of the toilet in a fairly impossible and uncomfortable way.

However, the apartment does include a small cute blonde girl. . .

Yes, that's right: I'm shacked up.

I'm living with the girl that I went to Egypt and Dubai with. She's pretty much the opposite of most girls I know, apart perhaps from being blond -- she doesn't drink or smoke, she's kind and honest and a bit shy, and so far hasn't revealed much in the way of greed or neediness. (I should say I met her only shortly before I left Vodkaberg in August of 2009)

So there we go! Surprise! For the last two weeks in Vodkaberg, I've mostly been going to bed at ten or eleven p.m, have only drunk to excess twice, and been having sex with the same woman every night. (Well. . . almost every night.)

Co-habiting does not exactly come as second-nature to me, but I thought I should try it before the world ends in 2012. The longest I can remember a girl living at my place, consecutively, is about 3 or 4 weeks. (Co-habiting is not exactly second nature to girls in Vodkaberg, also -- it's pretty rare before marriage, in fact.)

As it happens,most of the girls and English teachers I know here are also married or shacked up, or just working a lot to keep up with the insane cost of living, and the temptation to go out and raise hell is considerably lessened.

Still, for me this is like Adventure Tourism -- the thought of living with somebody scares me a lot worse than a safari or some shit.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Moscow Is Burning

Well, not exactly Moscow itself, but the peat bogs and forests around it are blazing merrily. I was there last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but the air didn't really get bad until Tuesday.

Sunday I arrived int he afternoon and met an old female friend for dinner -- spending nearly $75 on sushi at a mid-range restaurant, as is the dating custom in Russia -- but several other people I know in Moscow were busy working extensive hours trying to keep up with the vastly inflated cost of living, and didn't have time to meet me. (I had wanted to arrive on Friday morning and have the weekend in Moscow, but the date of August 1st was the entry date on my visa, hence the extra days in Amsterdam.)

I managed to get in some wandering around Red Square on Monday -- the smog wasn't too noticeable, as the wind was up that day -- which happened to be Paratrooper Day, when the Blue Beret soldiers notoriously get drunk and smash anything within sight. This is the New New Russia, however -- no drinking on the streets. The Blue Berets in Red Square and vicinity were mostly sober and well-behaved, although still swimming in fountains as is their wont. (There have been record high temperatures all summer, all over Russia, but it didn't feel particularly uncomfortable in the evening.)

Now let me say -- I do often criticize Russian babes, and I don't know if it's accurate to say that Russian girls are the most beautiful in the world, per se -- but I can definitely say that the percentage of slim, good-looking, well-dressed 17 - 26 year old girls seems to be much higher on the streets of Russia than any other city I have visited. I mean, you see some lookers in Amsterdam, and even occasionally in America, but here you see one every few meters, stalking around on high heels at bus stops, supermarkets, cigarette kiosks. . .

Monday evening, I bought more Sushi for my old girlfriend from Vodkaberg, and she brought a blonde friend with her back to my hotel room, and after I provided her with a souvenir Faded Glory American flag t-shirt and some duty-free perfume, some duty-free whiskey got drunk and there was some topless dancing, ass smacking and general fooling around.

Then at 01.00am, they both announced without preamble that they had to leave, and did so.

Nonplussed, I jerked off and went to sleep.

The next day the smell of smoke in the air was so acrid and nauseating, that I didn't manage to do any sightseeing, mostly hanging around the hotel sauna and fitness club before meeting another female friend in the evening. She had promised to spend the night, but upon arrival said she couldn't and hope that I understood, that she had a boyfriend now. She said she hoped I wasn't disappointed.

"Disappointed, but not offended," I promised her as we had dinner and drinks in the hotel bar.

The next morning I woke up at 6.00am, heart racing and breathing labored. The smell of smoke was thick in my room, despite the air-con.

I went and looked out the window and the smog was so thick I could barely see anything, even though the sun had just risen. I turned the air-conditioning on high and went to the bathroom; my eyes were blood-shot red and watering.

I wondered how close I, and most of Moscow, were to collapsing from carbon monoxide poisoning. I went into the shower and put a washcloth over my mouth and nose. I relaxed as the steam filled the room and I dozed lying under the shower for a while. (One nice thing about Russia is the endless centrally provided hot water. Until, of course, they shut it off for a month at a time.)

When I got out of the shower, the sun was higher and the sky had cleared some. I went back to sleep for a few hours, then got up and gorged myself at the huge breakfast buffet, and by 4.00pm the plane was leaving smog-choked Moscow to take me to Vodkaberg, my old home of 9 years.