Wow, so this year has been quite a big one for me in many ways: I got married, launched a web business and had a baby (all of which I'll be posting about at some point). But apart from those life changers, September also marked the first time that I came to Moscow ten years ago.
Now I haven't been here for a ten years straight of course - there was lot's of back and forth before I was relatively settled (which, if you're really interest in, you can read about here), but still, the ten year mark has been hit! If this was prison, it would have been a totally legit stint.
So I figured now would be as good a time as any to take a quick look back on things and what has changed.
So what exactly have been I been doing for ten years?
Pretty much everything: from studying, to teaching, to editing, translating, working on the radio for over 3 years and getting into business, it's been quite the spectrum. Then of course there has been a lot of fun, women casing and partying, followed by settling down and baby creation.
Moscow then and now , so what's changed?
A lot! Moscow used to feel a bit more wild and free and is definitely tamer these days, but generally I'd say things have improved - you can pay by card pretty much everywhere, ATMs are all over the place, a lot of the systems in government-run places seem to be running smoother with ticket-queue systems (you notice this when you need to register your baby's birth certificate and other *fun* stuff), quality of service is getting better. I did a look back on some of the things that had changed and improved in this post in 2013, check it out for some more specifics. Things are far more convenient though, that's for sure.
What's the same?
Well, the average wage is still shit, pay still doesn't seem to rise with inflation, facecontrol is still as bullshit as ever, work hours, schedule and commute are still brutal, along with traffic, drivers, bureaucracy and people not saying thank you. For the most part, a lot of the things that are hard in Moscow, like crowding and pace of life, are common to any big capital city. I was in London on a bit of business the other day, and I would still would rather live in Moscow than London, even with all its flaws. Oh, and Russians still can't seem to form proper lines and Russian post still takes forever.
don't even ask kto poslednii
Meh, materially I think not (again, I'm talking about Moscow and not the whole of Russia) although I'd say politicly things seem like they could be sliding backwards, foreign capital is flowing out, new ambiguous, controlling laws get rubber stamped on the reg (from internet laws, 'bloggers' having to registers as media, protest laws, gay propaganda laws, notifying about duel citizenship etc etc).
You could argue that things were on the slip slide from the days when NTV got taken over, along with pretty much all the country's media. (FYI, I thought Luke Harding's book Mafia State was an interesting look into the state of journalism in Russia). I also think that the appointment of ignorant little pigs like Kiselev to, essentially, propaganda minster, is a step back. But hey, that's just my opinion.
Do you miss home?
A note on living abroad in general
I've been called unpatriotic for saying this, but I have to say, not really. I miss people (although I only have one good friend left in my home town) and I miss other things like good customer service and Sunday lunch. To me, it's not so much the city, but the people in it (excluding places like Sierra Leone of course). I don't feel a magical connection to British soil or anything. When home, it's nice to see old places, or places where I grew up, but generally, i don't get too nostalgic. I can reconnect to the past at any time by looking at old pictures, playing old video games or listening to, you guessed it, old music.
A note on living abroad in general
Living in another country - any country - can be tough at times, especially when you don't know the language. This is why it is important to make new friends, develop habits, meet new people and get to know the culture. Heck, there's even such a thing as expat burnout!
Living the expat life involves a certain amount of sacrifice and you do have to make difficult decisions, after all, we all leave something or someone behind.
As one example, I have had two relatives pass while I was in Russia and, although I wasn't very close to them, I'm reminded that my other close relatives, especially my nan on my mum's side, are getting older and might not have that many years left. Sure, I Skype them every week, but we all know it's not the same as seeing them in person. Also, since having a kid, I have this feeling of having 'moved up the death food chain'. I know, I know, morbid as shit, but hey, it is what it is.
After people ask if i miss home, they usually ask if I miss my family and the answer is yes! I am actually very close with my parents.
Coming home and leaving was often a gut wrenching, bitter sweet experience. After a while, we stopped doing airport send offs because it's was, basically, too emotionally torturous! I'd just feel like shit, sick to my stomach the whole flight. It was like I was delivering an uppercut to my mum in her non-existent balls, every time. And keep in mind, I go back to the UK at least 2-4 times a year, it's not like I don't ever go back.
Take that, mum!
A couple of months back, I was talking to a Palestinian taxi driver while in Bristol and he told me, after studying a year in the Uk in the 70s, he decided to marry a woman of whom his dad didn't approve. He got married anyway and because of the epic fallout (as I gather, Islam can be pretty strict on this shit) he didn't go back home for 25 years! And video calls were still a SciFi dream back in the day. By the time he eventually came to visit, he had two grown up kids.
I thought that was one sad, fucked up story and another good reason why it never pays to get too butthurt.
Many people seem to get older, live their own lives and kind of just forget about ole mum and dad, but, after my years rocking and rolling in Moscow, I want to be close to the family again, especially now they have a granddaughter to see. Of course, another thing that used to worry me was: how will my kid/s have a proper relationship with their grandparents? Answer, we all move to another country!
Well no, not for this Englishman, I'll be keeping the blog live of course and will be chiming in on things from time to time, but actually, me and the family will be moving from Moscow - not back to England though, but to Bulgaria, which might seem mad to some.
I simply don't want to be part of the rat race and leveraging earnings, time and lifestyle are quite difficult in an expensive country like England. Plus business tax is low in Bulgaria (perfect for an online business) and since I convinced my parents to move there, we'll be able to have a closer family life and they can see their granddaughter all the time, which to me, is the most important thing. All around this is a neat solution and my parents are already enjoying the waves of chaos that come with moving to a Bulgarian village!
Naturally after so many years in Moscow, it's quite strange to imagine being in another place, but at the same time, I like the challenge of moving and adapting to a new culture and way of life, shit, I might even start an Englishman in Bulgaria blog, watch this space!