Chesterton Tribune

John Kosmatka reports on two years in Moscow

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Now that I’ve been here for two years at the American Embassy, Moscow Russia continues to be on exciting challenge with almost daily surprises, both good and bad. The highly educated residents of the world’s third largest, as well as world’s third most expensive city, seemingly go out of their way to “Test their English” on a real American. They have a thirst for wanting to know how the rest of the world views their way of life.

I continue to study the language, although my “Russian” quickly identifies me as a foreigner. However, I seldom encounter difficulty in day to day communications.

In some ways Russia exceeds our great country, while in other ways they remain many years behind. Throughout Moscow there are numerous parks encompassing many square blocks of natural habitat. Their educational system is world renowned, especially in terms of their math and science scores. College degrees are almost expected in much the same way that high school is here. While my daughter is getting an architectural degree in the US, she is accumulating thousands of dollars of debt. Russian students have no such situation. Their transportation subway system carries over nine million riders daily. You can go from one end of Moscow to the other in less than an hour for about a quarter.

Water quality remains “suspect” so almost everyone drinks bottled water. Everyone (except me) drinks tea. Coke and Pepsi are the soft drinks of choice, and Snickers (pronounced “Sneakerz”) is the most popular candy. The McDonald’s near Pushkinskaya metro has 24 cash registers and is always very busy. The average Russian earns about 300 dollars US equilavent per month, but housing was given to them during the “changeover.”

The average life span of an adult male is 56 years . Cigarettes and alcohol are priced very low so alcoholism and lung cancer continue to be a problem. There are no taxes on items bought in stores. The price you see is the price you pay.

Russians have an affinity for wild dogs and feed them without giving it any thought. Packs of dogs who reside near the metro subway (called Metrodogs) can often be seen sleeping in the sun. One friend at the embassy was recently bitten and had to undergo a series of painful rabbi shots.

My residence can best be described as an upscale condo townhouse. I live in a scenic gated community, just north of Moscow, which is considered one of the city’s best neighborhoods. It’s not uncommon for most Russians to live in extremely small apartments where the tiny living room also doubles as a bedroom.

Fortunately for me, I’ve done some traveling while living in Moscow. Russian holidays are also days off allowing for many a three day weekend. I look forward to Russian Independence Day and International Women’s Day as travel opportunities. So Petersburg, Kiev, Bucharest, Cairo and London are just a few of the places I’ve been to.

Almost all Russians have mobile phones. Days of shortages are in distant memories. Most Russians now accept the fact that they are in a global economy.

English remains “The Language” to learn. I wanted to buy clothing to send back with cyrillio writing. Finding none available in local markets, I finally had to go to a souvenir store. NY Yankee and “Bulls” apparel remains popular. Russia is also the land of “Counterfeit everything.” DVD’s designer purses, and Rolex watches costing only a few dollars come to mind.

Outside toilets downgrade the city with both sight and smell. They cost 35 cents and seem to be everywhere. Customer service lags far behind the west. Trying to return anything usually takes 15 minutes of arguing as well as your passport being shown. Cashiers always try to insist that you pay with exact amounts, have not learned to smile, and often act like they are doing you a favor.

White lines marking the road lanes are only “suggested” lanes. A two lane road quickly becomes three lanes and drivers often use sidewalks. Consequently, city runners have all been run over or choose to run in parks. As for my personal running course, I begin near the stadium of the ‘76 Olympics. I run along the Riverbank to the Kremlin and back again for a seven mile adventure.

Most busy intersections have underground tunnels allowing one to safely cross the street. I often think of the possibilities of something similar on Indian Boundary and the Bypass.

With the numerous museums, art collections, English language club activities, running club, and health club at my residence, there is seldom a dull moment. I play on our embassy softball team which almost always wins games of our National sport (Although the Cubans are usually competitive with us). Thanks to a direct phone line to Washington, D.C., I can call Chesterton with a phone card cheaper than someone from Chesterton can call LaPorte.

Because of modern technology I try to keep up with day to day local news by logging on to the Chesterton Tribune website. I’ll be here in Chesterton till July 8th before returning. If anyone has any questions I’d be happy to correspond.

 I’m even more convinced now then before that Chesterton is the best place in the world.

—June 20, 2006

P.S. The color black is still the color of choice. In order to try to look more like a “Local” I wear black as often as possible (coat, pants, shirt, etc.).


Posted 6/23/2006