Saturday, December 8, 2007

Smokin' and Comparisons

Yesterday's poster on "A Soviet Poster A Day" was an advertisement for cigarettes. This reminded me of the blissful fact that very few people smoke here. Yes a load of people chew beetlenut, so there are tons of people spitting disgusting red goo everywhere (and when you are walking it is very difficult to maneuver around traffic while avoiding the gross red puddles), but very little smoking. In fact, most of the smokers here are foreigners.
Smoking was a huge problem in Kazakhstan (so I guess these posters were somewhat successful). Every where you went people were smoking these incredibly high tar cigarettes.

This comparison reminded me that I wrote a rather long blog post about the differences between Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka weeks ago and never posted it. So here it is:

1) Weather. Clearly Siberia is going to be very different from the tropics. Interesting, though, there are some similarities. For example, they both have rainy autumns. I went from too cold to too hot. Where is there a location that is just right?

2) Food. I thought Sri Lanka would be easier than Kazakhstan with food, but the amount of meat consumed here is quite amazing. When I say meat I mean fish -- yes fish is meat (and people who eat fish are not vegetarians, they are pescetarians). That said there is a wealth of restaurants here and I can always find something that is vegetarian to eat, so that is a vast improvement. Not to mention the plethora of peanut butter products. It is also nice that they use spices in the food in Sri Lanka – frankly salt and pepper is just not enough for my taste buds.

3) Language. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I miss Russian. That is right, I find Russian far easier to learn (not that I learned it) than Sinhala. First, there are only a few new letters to learn rather than an entirely new alphabet and also the grammar structure is closer to English. Crazy, I realize, but still, by this time in Kazakhstan I could buy things in the market using Russian. I know about eight words in Sinhala.

4) Internet Access. I can’t believe how great it is to have internet access. I had e-mail in Kazakhstan, but the connection was too weak to view the simplest website. Plus, I wasn’t web savvy then. Now I can watch television (thanks to YouTube, or maybe I shouldn’t be thankful for that) and read what other people who I don’t even know are doing. I can look up everything I ever wanted to know. I can continue my comic strip obsession. I waste hours on the Internet. Crazy. What did I do in Kazakhstan to fill the hours?

5) Books. We were so lucky to have a small English library (thanks to Ellen!) in Petro. I think I might have read every book in the library, but still, I never ran out of reading material. In Sri Lanka English reading material is plentiful, but expensive. Even the library (British Council) costs money. Who would have thought? [Like I said, I wrote this post weeks ago. I have since acquired a small library of books from the various Australians who just departed. So I have enough reading material for a few months now.]

6) Laundry. This seems like a weird topic, but it is drastically different here than in Kazakhstan or the U.S. In Kazakhstan I would boil some water on the stove to wash each item by hand. I had to boil the water because since it was below freezing even inside, I couldn't handle putting my hands in ice cold water. Thus, when no gas was available, I skipped laundry. When I did do laundry it would take days to dry (because it would freeze on the inside laundry lines). Jeans could take a week!

Here I have a little washing machine (much like the machines very wealthy people had in Kazakhstan). This machine is not like a washing machine in America. I have to fill the barrel with water and I have to move the clothes to be spun in a separate barrel. This said, it is infinitely easier to do laundry here than in Kazakhstan (not the least because clothes dry in a few hours!) and yet, I still hate this chore.

7) Money. I saved money in Peace Corps. I might be the only person to ever say that. Frankly, there was nothing to spend money on – no restaurants, no goods. The Former Soviet Union thing was very strong in Petro. When something showed up that I wanted, I hoarded and could do so without worrying about the money. Clearly this didn’t happen very often because I saved enough money to go to Russia, India and Uzbekistan on vacation. I’m not saving money in Sri Lanka. I’m carefully budgeting and thankfully, have yet to hit my savings, but I do have to be careful. There are a lot of places to spend money here, a lot of things to buy, a lot of imported food that I can never hope to afford and a great deal of temptation. Like in the U.S., but I feel like I have to be more careful here.

8) Housing. I lived in a Soviet-block apartment in Kazakhstan. I lived alone. I liked that. The place was very comfortable, soft couch/bed, well stocked kitchen, etc. I live in what was once a fancy house in Sri Lanka, but due to disrepair, isn’t so nice now. Comfortable if one forgets that the living room furniture is covered in plastic (very sticky in tropical temperatures) and we lack a great deal in the kitchen. My room is very nice – basically the size of my apartment in Kazakhstan. I have two roommates here, but one is leaving, which suites me because that means I’ll soon have a dry toilet seat (see post). Strangely, both places have concrete walls. Hmm. [Manurie has now moved out. She hasn't told Sewalanka so she still has a key and a room (with stuff in it). I don't know how long she can keep up this little lie as she is pregnant and of course she wouldn't be living here after the baby is born. We had an Irish lady here for a week and I thought she'd be here longer, but she hasn't been back.]

9) Nature. In Kazakhstan going "to nature," as they would say, meant walking a few kilometers out of town to visit the “forest” where all the trees were in neat lines. Yes, we had the Tian Shan, but they were so far away from Petro, they don’t really count. In Sri Lanka I have monkeys frolicking in my yard (see post)! It is really beautiful here and luckily my job takes me to where the beauty spots are on a regular basis.

10) Activities. Which brings me to this point…there are things to do here. I joined a community band in Kazakhstan, but it didn’t last long (walking in the dark across town in the dead of winter killed the thrill of playing with a group and due to the lack of musical education in school, all the people in the band were new to their instruments). In Sri Lanka I’ve already taken a photography class and have joined the Photography Society. I imagine if I looked I could find somewhere to play. There are all sorts of water sports I could participate in (but will not as I’m not a fan). I’m sure if I put more effort into this I could find a great deal more to do and thus probably make more friends.

Ten seems like a good place to stop. I could probably go on, but this post is already too long as it is. I’ll add more after I’ve been here longer.


James said...

I tried Yoga in Karaganda for a while, as the yoga room was nicely warmed. But the most fun was finding and 'joining' a 'gym', which was a small room on the 1st floor of a nearby apartment. I late found out that the friendly Russian guys who found me amusing were bodyguards for 'businessmen' and were all former Afghan veterans. I think they thought I was their cute American pet. I didn't mind that perception.

My walk to nature was to go to the 'otval' slag pile, where there were pools of toxic water that somehow sustained wading bird populations, mostly black-legged stilts. I would take my cat with me tucked in my coat and let him out. He didn't like the steppe and did not run away from me.

Jessica L. said...

They have real gyms here with pools and work out equipment and even trainers. And the cost 1/5 of my monthly salary. So I won't be joining a gym.

I'm too far from "nature" here to walk to it, but I do get to see quite a few interesting birds in the "wetland" behind our house. When they deem me worthy to go out into the field I get to see tons of wildlife, so I can't complain too much.