Week 3: Settling in, and other observations

Posted: September 25, 2009 in Иркутск
Tags: , , , ,

 I’d had two weeks of classes to figure out the work ethic, attention, layout of the building, teachers’ names and patronymics, and so on, here at the university; two weeks to make some friends; two weeks to start missing home and to get a steady Internet connection to stay on top of the news, social life, and goings on of home, Midd, and my friends now scattered around the world. Along with all of that comes a lot of work (and stress), so I was more than happy to hang around home for my three day weekend and catch up on sleep.

The variations among the “service” sector/bureaucracy of the place is shocking.

Example 1. BaikalWestCom is wonderful. Pristine, heated, spacious, and helpful—aspects of buildings and establishments which I appreciate more and more each day—I’ve had to go to their store in the city center twice now to figure out my Internet modem settings on my computer. But, regardless of the fact my modem isn’t perfect, or the fact it makes for about a 45-60 minute round-trip commute and 20-24 rubles to do so (i.e. about 3 quarters), I really don’t mind it. They even made an exception to their rules and violated the privacy (but not really—I’m just allowed to see my account balance online now) of David Parker, who graciously left behind his modem in dear Irkutsk for generations of starving travelers to come (also quoted as rating BWC employees “the most helpful service people in the city”). They’re helpful, there’s not a wait or paperwork, and it’s free tech support. Beautiful.

Example 2. On my recent trip to the post office, I needed to approach the counter to ask for postage for postcards to the U.S. Upon saying so (I think it was the “S.Sh.A,” meaning U.S.A. that set it off. . . the accent too, obviously), the woman behind the desk thought it would be necessary to speak about 50 decibels higher than normal. I mean, there wasn’t anyone else around really, so I didn’t mind, and it was better than the usual mumble behind the glass screen that stands between any inquirer and the Russian bureaucracy. And I got the things sent. So, normal’no (the always usable Russian equivalent of “all right,” “normal,” “fine”).

Example 3. To swim in pools in Russia, 95% of the time, you’ll need a doctor’s note saying you’re healthy enough to be in collective water. But “doctor’s note” is a bit of an understatement. First, Elizabeth and I had an unsuccessful try at the Central Diagnostic Center of Irkutsk early yesterday morning, where they charge double for foreigners—literally, it’s a multiplied by two charge, not because of any visible tacked on charges for analyzing foreign blood, just doubled. I don’t have the budget for that. So today, we tried at the less high-tech looking clinic across the street from the MezhFak. After we were spun around the office to four different desks with four different lines and four different women with typically stern faces, I ended up in the doctor’s office with the proper paper with the proper stamp saying I had paid my 200 rubles (not even $10). She asked to see my hands. Then told me to turn them over. She asked if they itched. I said no. She asked if I was healthy. I said yes. Then she handed me the final piece of paper needed, which we took to receive 3 more stamps, and I received my spravka (the doctor’s note), no needles, x-rays, or exorbitant medical costs. Three cheers for good ol’ bureaucratic dishonesty.

So Mom and Dad, you can take back the money you put in my account if you’d like. Or not. They say bribing happens here, too, sometimes. But for now, I’m putting on my happy face about Russian papers, stamps, and angry women behind the glass window.

In other news, the dollar is falling. C’mon US economy—do it for your kids abroad!

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Comments
  1. perusha3761 says:

    Hi Casey,

    I love your blog. I will read it faithfully and send you greetings from Iowa as much as I can. Stay warm and don’t upset the locals. :)

    • Casey says:

      Thanks! I appreciate the readership, and the updates from the Midwest. I’ve got the wool sweaters and jacket’s ready!
      Best,
      CM

  2. perusha3761 says:

    Glad to hear you are getting settled and the classwork hasn’t been too hard. No matter what, I know you can handle it.

  3. […] itch and that I at least thought I was healthy (see “Example 3″ in my post about my trip to the clinic), the extra stamp on the doctors note indicating that the gym knew I had the doctors note, my new […]

  4. […] had something like that to practice with, especially after my first attempts at dealing with “customer service” in Russia…). “Experience schmerience,” you say. As a Russian School alum, I can vouch that […]

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