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Rapidly becoming who I am.
So I have fulfilled the demands of some of my most committed detractors and self-deported myself back to Russia.
My first sociological observation on landing in Domodedova this Tuesday, and perhaps the one most germane to Unz.com readers, was that about 100% of the airport cleaning stuff were Uzbeks and Tajiks, and well more than 50% of the black leather jacket-wearing taxi drivers aggressively hustling their services to arrivees were Caucasians. Of course I used Uber. It was twice cheaper – 1,000 rubles versus 2,000 for the shady taxi ride – and most likely considerably safer to boot.
That said, the title of this post is (mainly) exaggeration. Official census statistics say that Moscow remains well more than 90% Russian. This is patently untrue, and nobody argues otherwise. Even so, it’s fair to say that a good nine out of ten faces you see on the streets are Slavic, and I say this as someone who now resides in one of the more “enriched” (and nationalist) areas. The bottom line is that Moskvabad might or might not become a reality by 2050. Londonistan is a reality today.
Since my last visit was more than a decade ago, I needed to make good on a considerable amount of bureaucratic backlog. The general impression amongst informed observers is that the Russian bureaucracy has gone from being atrocious to merely adequate. I concur. What in 2006 would have likely taken me several days to resolve only took half a day. It is still a far cry from North European digital nirvanas but the paperwork has become crisper and more efficient.
One of the main points I have made over and over again on this blog is that while wages in Russia might be low, they are countered by the banal fact that prices are much cheaper, so the gap in living standards between Russia and the developed Western world is not so much the fivefold difference you see in nominal GDP per capita comparisons, but rather the twofold difference you get after a purchasing power adjustment.
Food is very cheap. Twice cheaper is the general rule of thumb, and that is with respect to Moscow, supposedly one of the most expensive cities in the world (incidentally, this was only ever true for the most clueless expats, and has in any case ceased to be the case since the devaluation). The Big Mac, a classic component of comparison, costs 130 rubles in the Moscow suburbs, which is twice cheaper than in Britain and the US. Salted cucumbers – the real deal, not the vinegar soaked abomination that passes for them in the Anglosphere – cost close to nothing, while in California you can buy a modest bottle produced by “artisan farmer” types from Whole Foods for the princely sum of $5. Ergo for alcohol – pictured above is Massandra Muscat, a Crimean dessert wine that was actually pretty good. (However, I have yet to find a good Russian Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Any suggestions?).
Despite fond early childhood memories, I was decidedly underwhelmed by all the Ajika sauces I have sampled thus far. They’re too mild and far too salty – in other words, I guess you can say I’ve been spoiled by Mexican salsas and Indian spices. (Georgian food was traditionally considered to be this cool, exotic cuisine for meat-and-potato Russians in the USSR, but from a global perspective, my opinion is that it’s rather unimpressive). I was surprised to find that the typical Russian supermarket carries Tabasco Original sauce – my favorite hot sauce, luckily enough – and though as an import, it is twice as expensive as in the US, it’s not exactly a daily grocery item. Finding spices much more exotic than cinnamon and turmeric is a challenge. Indian food, unlike Japanese or Korean, never took off in Russia, so I plan to scout Moscow’s specialized spice shops in the coming weeks for my star anise and garam masala.
My lifeblood, the Internet, is dirt cheap: $8 (500 rubles) for 72Mbps. In terms of upload speed, they don’t even exaggerate, as is typical everywhere.
In London, it was $45 for 10Mbps downloads and 0.5Mbps (!) uploads. In California, it was $80 (!) for 15Mbps downloads and 5Mbps uploads with Concast.
I also got a cell phone plan for $6.5 (400 rubles) with 10GB data- I don’t use anywhere near that much, but why not after paying $35 for 2.5GB from Cricket Wireless and $20 for 2GB from EE?
Ironically, many Russians complain about the high cost of Internet, cell phone plans, and other utilities. Things are always relative.
I will be busy furnishing my office and visiting friends and relatives in the coming days and weeks, so blogging will initially be slow but will gradually pick back up.