Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Life on the edge

If you're not already aware (ie if you don't read the news ever), the ruble and the Russian economy are going through tough times - the word "crisis" has accurately been used to describe the situation.  To give a brief summary, the ruble is at its lowest rate against the dollar in its history, inflation is rising in Russia, companies are unable to pay back their foreign debt (held largely in dollars), and it's only getting worse.

Why? Partially because of Western sanctions against Russia for its actions in the Ukraine.  Another significant cause is the huge drop in oil prices - while this seems like a good thing because it results in cheaper gas prices for those of you back in the States, it's terrible for oil exporting countries, most of whom rely on the price of crude oil being somewhere around $100 a barrel (to give a rough average) to break even.  It's now fallen to around $60 a barrel and shows no immediate signs of rising.  

What does this mean in real terms, for people living in Russia? Because of inflation, it means that the prices of everything from food to medicines to clothing and electronics have gone up.  To give a real example, I bought medication today for 766 rubles that only 28 days ago cost 750.  Grocery bills are quietly going up 50, 100, 150 rubles more than you expect based on what you're used to paying.  

Because of sanctions, a lot of food items are simply not available.  The most noticable for me is imported cheese, as I find Russian produced cheeses to be fairly bland and plastic-y, and therefore lived on English cheddar and Italian mozzarella. Other items have gone the same route and will continue to do so as existing stock is sold.  

Because of the combined effects, going on vacation to either the US or Europe is simply no longer an option for many people, as the exchange rate vastly decreases their purchasing power.  When I first arrived in Russia two and a half years ago, the rate was around 30 rubles to the dollar; now it's around 70.  Luckily I planned my New Year's trip to Bishkek, so it won't be as bad.

While people are certainly worried, some are also finding some humor in the current situation

Unfortunately, things aren't slated to get better any time soon, but for the time being there's not much else to do besides sit, watch, and hope for the best.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Black Fog

Yesterday, there was apparently a thick, black smoke in some parts of Moscow.  I say "apparently" because I luckily didn't encounter it, despite being in the center of Moscow for work and outside quite a bit.  It was also absent from where I live in the north-west of the city, so hopefully it's cleared up soon! Not before the State Department sent out an emergency email warning to all US citizens registered with the embassy saying we should stay indoors.

In other, lesser news, we celebrated Halloween last week with painted faces and good times; the holiday is becoming more popular in Moscow, at least among my age group.  My 12 year old student assured me that the day isn't observed in any of the state schools, so I decided it would be appropriate to spend a portion of our lesson watching Hocus Pocus.  

That's all I have for now, just a brief update. Also, in case you missed it, Putin being super suave in China. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The summer, and then not the summer

I spent the first half of the summer finishing out my employment at EF Mayakovskaya, and with it my time teaching children for the foreseeable future. I'm glad to have had the experience, but it's not for me right now.  Before heading back to the US, I took a weekend trip to Warsaw to visit my friend Pawel and his family.  They were the best hosts I could ever have asked for, with Pawel's parents feeding us delicious (and huge amounts of) home-cooked food for every meal, and Pawel himself showing me pretty much everything there was to see in the city - the Old Town, New Town, parks and palaces, forests, a very new castle, and even a pit stop for shopping and a mad souvenir hunt. Warsaw is much smaller than Moscow, and most buildings are new - they were reconstructed after the war, but kept as close to their original style as possible. In short, I loved Warsaw and it was a welcome break from Moscow.   

The following weekend, I flew back to the US for the next month, where I was met with friends, family, and familiar food.  I spent as much time as possible at the beach, got a fair bit of shopping in, and spent a lot of time driving to and from seeing people.  I was able to help my dad out with doctor's appointments after his heart surgery the first week I was back, and I'm happy to say he's been recovering well and quickly.  Another thing I got to do at home was go to and camp at a 4 day music festival by the beach in my city called The Gathering of the Vibes.  I camped with a big group of friends, and in order to gain free entry I worked with another friend selling tickets in the parking garage for a day.  Not bad at all! I didn't get to spend a single day on my own during my vacation, but it was a lot of fun and flew by rather quickly. 

When I got back to Moscow, I started my new job teaching English to EF's corporate clients.  It requires quite a bit of commuting every day, but I really love it so far.  I've had a few stints of being ill and also found out I have a new lentil allergy, but I've also gotten out to see friends and enjoy some of our parks.  I even rowed a boat a few weeks ago before the cold set in! And despite what you may be hearing in the news, there is plenty of food on the shelves, and it has not decreased in quality.  Though cheddar cheese has all but disappeared, leaving me deeply distraught. 

It's been said that without regularity, your writing suffers, so hopefully this hasn't been too painful to read.  That's my news from Moscow for now! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Notes from Russia

Notes from Russia! I made a nice little excursion to Vladimir over Women's Day weekend, and it was lovely - beautiful old things, minus the hustle and bustle of Moscow.  Also back in March I celebrated my birthday for nearly a week with dinners, walks, and happy hours.  

This summer I'll be coming home for about a month to soak up some sun, sand, and fresh seafood; tickets have already been purchased! Please prepare to feed me. 

Despite the situation in Ukraine heating up and the west placing sanctions on Russia, nothing has changed on the ground here.  Although I did find some really great sweet and sour sauce in the store, so that was pretty groundbreaking.  

In other news, my landlady callously (and rather unfairly given that we live at the last stop on the metro line and a 15min walk from the station) raised our rent, so we're hoping to move after summer vacation - hopefully closer to the center.  

Our academic year at school is nearly finished, which is exciting though also sad as many friends have left or are planning to leave Moscow.  Warm farewells and hugs to everyone as they begin new journeys, which goes for those of you back at home and scattered across the globe as well.  As for me, I'll be here...for now.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

An overdue synopsis

I have no excuses for my prolonged absence, so I'll just jump into a brief update since...what, October?
Thanksgiving was spent the same as last year's - diner dinner on the day of in a large group, followed by a Saturday potluck with a slightly smaller group.  Christmas was spent working, and New Year was spent in the north of England with friends.

Volgograd got bombed, but Moscow is literally closer to Poland than to Volgograd, so we were just fine here.  The Sochi Olympics have come and gone, wrapping up in a few weeks with the end of the Paralympic Games.  My friend Nic came for a visit after volunteering on the alpine track, and we watched the closing ceremony with a nice Williams representation.  Speaking of the Olympics, I'd like to note that they were incredibly well executed, especially taking into consideration that everything had to be built from scratch, unlike several previous sites.  Was it perfect? No.  Was it remarkable, to say the least? A resounding yes.

And now for the biggest news item: the current situation in Ukraine.  I think this is a nice summary of what's been happening since late December (for those of you who don't feel like reading in depth articles from legitimate news sources).  Things have carried on as usual here in Moscow, though people are starting to discuss it more and more.  This is also a nice piece on what's currently happening.  Interestingly enough, the only people I really hear talking about it at all are expats...I supposed it makes sense in some ways, since the ruble's rapid decline is making our money worth a lot less and our salaries suddenly much lower in real terms (since we'll need to exchange those rubles for dollars/pounds/etc at some point, and the exchange rate is increasingly against our favor).  Everyone is (obviously) also really hoping war doesn't suddenly break out, but for your peace of mind I will say that I'm registered with the embassy, I have the embassy's number saved in my phone, and my flatmate and I have an emergency plan just in case.  

In less interesting and less exciting news, the state of CT is being a real pain as they simultaneously inform me of my upcoming license expiration and summon me for jury duty...sorry, I won't be able to attend.  I'm busy being an expat in Russia, which had me ice skating, eating blini, and burning effigies for Maslenitsa today.