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The Wild East

August 8, 2009

“RUSSIAN, n. A person with a Caucasian body and a Mongolian soul. A Tartar Emetic.” (Ambrouse Bierce)

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Irrational fears, emotions blended with facts and childhood memories underlie my concept for understanding what Russia is, the nature of its people and the routine of their lives. To grasp the global picture, give assessment of the reality, gauge the people and understand their culture one needs to genuinely live it all through.

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Being my official homeland, Russia, nevertheless, will always remain a foreign coutnry for me. As a quasi-Russian, an outsider and a carefree tourist, which I was during my three week sojourn, I won’t pretend to have identified myself with this land or its people.

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Our accommodation represented a two room apartment, which state could be defined as: “step lightly, don’t touch – just look, ’cause I’m about to break into pieces”. I don’t intend to submit a detailed report of all the ‘random’ inconveniences that had systematically emerged as a result of given conditions, but just to let you have the general picture: dwelling in a pathetic refuge as such, is a hazardous challenge for one’s mental health.

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Social climate in Russia underlies a gulf between the poor and the wealthy, being disproportionately distributed.

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There is no income tax in Russia. But there’s no income” (Will Roger) – this statement is not absolutely true. Nowadays, most people do get paid unlike ten or fifteen years ago. Still, salaries, cash flow and quality of life in major cities (such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg) differ significantly from the rest of the country. I happened to stay in Ufa – an important, industrial city located about 1360 km east of Moscow and populated with over one million people.

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From a European perspective, some aspects of Russian reality seem quite unusual to me. Sidewalks, made of concrete, asphalt or bricks, too customary to be noticed in the civilized world cover only the small area around the local government building and few main avenues. Nature welcomes you with unpaved, poorly maintained roads (I must admit that riding a car on an uneven surface is a joyous experience )). In spite of numerous holes, bumps and pot-holes covering the street roads in a bizarre pattern, Russian women normally keep their step light and balanced without losing a bit of grace and dignity. It was amazing to watch.

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An assortment of residential houses ranging from pre-revolutionary huts with lopsided pitched roofs to the newest building projects is presented to one’s viewing. I was subject to a distinct contrast between contemporary, shining shopping malls (with poor air conditioning, however) and right next [to them] – mired wooden houses surrounded by ditches and God-knows-what-else ).

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Transportation system deserves a good word. Buses, trolleybuses and trams come and go with regular periodicity, ready to take you shortly to the remotest spot in the city. Private shuttles are extremely poplar, proving to be more convenient and effective than public transportation.

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Air conditioning is a painful issue in almost all public places, including transportation. Well, Russia isn’t sharply distinguished from other European countries on this one:  in Slovakia, Czech Republic and some places in Germany and Hungary I was often subject to an intolerable existence with nothing but open windows and my prayers to alleviate the summer heat. In Russia, women use these old fashioned hand fans. Somewhat behind the times, but quite romantic, isn’t it? )

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