Well today it is 4 months since we arrived here in this crazy old city of Moscow. We are now firmly ensconced in the midst of a classic Russian winter, the worst in something like 70 years I have heard reported. So I thought it timely to reflect on our time so far and how we feel about the whole change of life.
|Walking home from the mall|
While the kids enjoy it here doing the winter things like sledding in the park, skating on our ice rink or walking through the knee deep powder in the park, they are not 100% happy at school and given a choice would rather be at home. We have our moments with them, but in general they are real troopers and appreciate that if they were to return home tomorrow that they would regret it in 10 - 20 years time when they look back on the early years of their lives, so want to make the most of their time here. Weekdays are tough on them as they have to catch the school bus / taxi at 7:30am in the pitch darkness for the 75 minute drive across Moscow, amongst some of the most insane drivers in the western world, then repeat it after school arriving home around 4:15pm. Being on the 4th floor doesn't make access to the outdoors that easy after school either requiring a commitment from one of us to go downstairs with them, which isn't always possible when you are trying to meet a work deadline. Now that the winter season is well and truly here, they are a lot more keener to get outside after school either to go ice skating or sledding on the snow, which is a good thing. While they complain about their school endlessly, they both are starting to pick up a reasonable amount of Russian language, while Molly is also studying French at school as well. Physical Education hasn't been taken out of the Russian education system as it has at home and there are at least 2 sessions each week. Jim seems to be doing a lot of working out on machines and body resistance and gymnastic type exercises from what he demonstrates to us, so seems to be a classic Russian style PE syllabus aimed at making champions, which can't do them any harm. While one of our biggest concerns before leaving was the fact that we were going to be living in a 2 bedroom apartment, and therefore the kids were not going to have their own rooms or space, they have ironically set their room up in a way that the 2 beds are side by side, and some mornings you will find Jim snuggled right up beside his big sister, so now they want a double topper pad to avoid the gap in the middle and a king size duvet to cover them both and they will be happy.
|Ice skating on our own private rink, which is lit 24/7|
As a family the first 3 months were rather unsettling, as we were completely unsure as to whether Angela's boss would actually bother or manage to get us new working visas after the completion of our first 90 days here, as he seems to know nothing of what he is doing, and when advised of some ideas will generally do the opposite. (This is a guy who's next BIG business idea is an English language immersion school for Chinese pupils in Moscow....) No one could advise us confidently of the visa renewal process, where we should do it, and how it was going to work, so a lot of time was spent researching Russian work visas, Russian Embassies and the process required to upgrade our visa. Finally we discovered, after being told by numerous knowledgeable sources that the only way for us to apply for a work visa was to do it in New Zealand, was that it was possible to apply at the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom, because as Kiwis we automatically got a 6 month entry visa to the UK, rather than a 3 month one to all other European countries, which allowed us to apply from there. In the end the process was pretty straight forward and we are now sorted, so can start planning for an extended stay here.
Most of our dissatisfaction here is generally work related;
- a furnished flat that had hardly any furniture in it and not even enough cutlery for the 4 of us,
- a work day for Angela starting at 8:30 am and finishing around 7:00 - 7:30pm,
- school fees which were about 80% higher than quoted at the time of accepting the employment package and a
- boss who doesn't have much idea about running a business, let alone a pre-school.
We are slowly rectifying a lot of these issues and Angela has been a regular visitor to IKEA, somewhere which me and the kids are still waiting to see. Getting established here took a lot longer than we had planned, having a real negative impact on my own business back in NZ, although we are pretty much caught up now and have a good system in place to keep on top of ongoing work, so hopefully soon that will also result in a return to regular cashflows for the company. As I have been busy catching up with work for my clients back home, I have pretty much been shut inside for a lot of the time as I work out of our lounge, but now that I have made huge inroads into the workload and Les is keeping the office moving back home I now have some free time to look for some work myself here in Moscow. Last week I saw an ad for an English language teacher for a mother and her 12 year old son, so sent them a message outlining my position and saying that I would be keen, next thing I know I have a job as an English Language teacher to a night class 2 nights per week starting next week. My class supposedly contains a couple of surgeons, a TV director and a quantum physicist, so that will be an interesting experience.
|Winter in Moscow can be absolutely beautiful|
Now that we have official work visas, we can start planning our time here with more certainty, so yesterday we headed out to a sports mall and ordered an Elliptical Cross Trainer which is being delivered on Thursday, we have all got ice skates to enjoy our own personal ice rink and will look to stock up on ice hockey gear as we learn to skate better. Hopefully we will last through to next winter, when we will look to stock up on skiing gear as we are about 10min walk max from a park with some great little slopes for the kids to learn to ski or snowboard on which are currently covered in about 75cm + of fresh powder. We can also start furnishing our "furnished" apartment to make it more homely, and even get a TV and satellite subscription.
Would we do it again if we knew then what we know now ?
Yes, I am sure we would, it has been one hell of an experience and even if it has cost us more to get ourselves established here than we thought, it has still been a really cheap 4 months where we have got to see Dubai, Moscow, and parts of England with our kids, which we would never have achieved if we stayed at home and tried to save for a trip such as this. We have a trip out into the countryside coming up soon, where we will get to go sleigh riding and fox hunting, and are looking at options for the summer holidays in Europe (Bulgaria, Turkey and areas around there). Moscow may not be the most glamorous city in the world, but it is an amazing places that gradually reveals more and more of its character the longer you are here. I imagine as a tourist you may never see the real Moscow, but living here reveals it in all its glory and along with its shortcomings. We seem to have arrived here at a time when Moscow is undergoing radical modernisation, there is talk on the news of many projects happening over the coming years to make Moscow more attractive to both Russians and foreigners alike, some of these include;
- Recently introduced bans on smoking in certain places
- Bans on selling alcohol from certain premises after 11:00pm at night
- Crackdowns on bad driving (speeding, shooting red lights, illegal U-turns, not stopping at pedestrian crossings, etc)
- New metro stations are being built.
- Existing metro stations are to be upgraded
- Universal Studios are opening a theme park here
- English language signage being introduced throughout the city
- English language being compulsory for medical practitioners.
- Floating parking lots to be built on the Moscow River.
- An air corridor to be opened above the Moscow River for heli-commuters to reduce congestion on the roads.
- Crackdowns on corruption (which seems to be totally rampant)
- Discount tourist passes for tourists.
I suppose I had always wondered what it was like for our ancestors arriving in New Zealand all those years ago from England, Ireland, Scotland and Prussia, and having to forge a new life in a new land that was just opening up and although Moscow is a pretty developed city with nearly 1,000 years of history it has that feeling of a city that is just being discovered, and developed and that we may have a little part to play in the future of Moscow. While our adventure has been a bit more comfortable than our ancestors, it has given me a real insight into how settling in to New Zealand may have been for my mum's grand-parents who like us will have had no understanding of the language when they arrived in New Zealand in the 1880's from Prussia.