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Moldova trip 2

This second trip to Moldova started off with the usual waiting for my boss to tell me it's OK to take holiday again. Due to the usual delays, which accompany this, the airfare prices had again jumped $500, repeating the situation at christmas. Still, I prefer to pay the ticket prices rather than stay in Nebraska the whole summer and die of boredom. Then followed the visa acquisition process. I assumed this would be easier this time, as both I, and my visa agent, had done this before, and I noted there was even a special 'invitation request form' on the visa agents website, for foreign citizens who wanted a Moldovan visa.

Well, I applied 2 months in advance this time. After 1 month had passed, I had heard nothing. I had to make many requests for information to my visa agent, which was met with a lot of "I don't know what is happening" type of emails. Good he was truthful, but I was not pleased to have just purchased an expensive airline ticket which would be rendered useless if I didn't happen to get a visa! One of the most agonizing parts of this process is the having to purchase the ticket before applying for the visa. Eventually I took matters into my own hands, and found a travel agency (West East Travel) in Moldova which also got invitations for tourists. Perfect!! This place was found relatively simply by typing "Moldova invitation" into www.google.com, and reading the results. Not too difficult. (Thanks Radu! I passed this information to my visa agent, who magically told me that "he now had word" that the invitation that he was getting for me would be done in a few days and that I didn't have to bother with this Moldovan place. It turns out that my visa agent had "some guys in Moscow" organizing my visa, and they had "some troubles" getting it". After sending my visa agent news of the Moldovan invitation issuing place, the "guys in Moscow" seemed to organize the invitation rather quickly.

After several days, the agency in Moldova sent me a copy of the invitation. I had agreed not to use this agency, and to wait for my visa agent instead. Well, it turns out the "guys in Moscow" had used this Moldovan agency to get my invitation. So basically, I paid some guy(s) to sit around and do nothing for a month, while I fretted and worried. Only when the threat of cancellation was upon them, did they use the alternative source I myself found to get me what I asked for. At least they did not charge me any extra fees this time. Probably the potential loss of repeat business started to dwell on them. Anyway, once the invitation was sorted out, the visa was acquired quite quickly. I actually got it 2 weeks before I was due to depart, instead of the day before like last time. No more gray hairs on account of worrying about my visa this time!

During my internet searches for all things Moldovan, I came across this book "Playing the Moldovans at Tennis". I promptly bought it, and am damn glad I did. It's by a guy called Tony Hawks, who I'd never heard of before. Apparently he had once hitchhiked around the circumference of Ireland, with a fridge, to win a 100 pound bet he made when drunk. This book was about a sober bet he made with a friend of his, that he could not beat the entire Moldovan national football (soccer) team at tennis.
Anyway, the book is really good. In the book, he goes to Moldova. It was a very interesting read for me. His view on Moldova was a little different from my first trip. He was of the western view of things, whereas I was trying hard to see the Moldovan side of things on my first trip. I'm afraid this book has influenced me a little on my 2nd trip, as I can now see the western side of things too, and some of the Moldovan things seem quite strange, and have indeed made me complain more than last time. However, complaining does not mean not having a good time at all, and having a good time has indeed been accomplished on this Moldovan trip, too.
Anyway, as the book cover says, even if you hate tennis, and couldn't find Moldova on a map, you'd still enjoy this book.

The day of departing to Moldova finally arrived, and depart I did. For some reason the check in guy at the airport decided to put me in the very last row of seats of the airplanes I flew on. This was new for me. I sat next to a guy who initially seemed friendly, and who chatted about how he likes to be booked into the last row of seats on all flights, because he really finds the lack of space on planes uncomfortable, and he hates flying because of this, and because no one else usually sits in the last row of seats.
This then led him to ask why I was in the last row of seats, and I said I had no idea. The conversation really seemed to be him venting his frustration of me sitting in the last row of seats too, and spoiling his good idea of having more room to himself on the terribly unconformable 1.5 hour flight he was forced to endure. He seemed not to think that going to Moldova was a good idea, because to him, 1.5 hours of flight was more than he could bear. 

I had to wait 6 hours in the Ohio airport, which was not too bad. I had purchased Tony Hawks other book about traveling around Ireland with a fridge, because his other book was damn good, and I missed his writing style. It was a thoroughly enjoyable book, and the only concern I had while reading it was "what happens if I finish reading it before my flight? Won't I get bored?" Then, onto a plane to Paris. In the last row of seats, which was OK, because despite the fact that the seats only recline a little way compared to the others, there was only one other seat next to mine, and a toilet right next to us. Also, plenty of space beside me to put stuff, as well as an additional small space behind my seat to put stuff as long as the seat wasn't reclined. I didn't sleep on the flight, but came to the conclusion that if you just relax your body a bit, close your eyes and pay attention to the images flashing through your mind, it has the same affect as sleep, and I left the plane feeling very awake.

The Charles de Gaul airport is not very pretty. It smells like dog shit. The security is not too good. The people really are quite rude. Some of them really do smell. There are no signs to direct you to where you need to go. There are however sexy French girls wearing baggy white t-shirts who speak english who can direct you to where you approximately need to be (and who must be quite well paid, because they are not rude at all. Or maybe they just save the rudeness for later, on the streets of Paris, when it is really needed). Where I needed to be was waiting for a bus, which took me through the airport, where planes, and even several French Concords, were only meters away, and if I got off the bus, and ran a little way, I could easily touch one. The lack of security guards and the bored look of the ones I did see did not help me feel especially secure. The sign on the bus saying it was forbidden to exit the bus between bus stops would probably not stop a determined terrorist, or even an eager non-French-sign-reading tourist who wanted a closer look at the planes. I got into a crappy terminal, brought some stuff with some Euros, and felt very proud of myself. Then I just had to wait for the flight to Moldova.

And . . the flight to Moldova was OK. I was in the front this time. The plane was not full, and I had a row of seats to myself. Very nice. I slept a little bit on this plane. I even saw the Eiffel tower on take off, and got a sort of photograph of it. Immigration at Moldova was less scary this time. I knew that the officers were going to be grumpy looking, and they were. The baggage arrived quicker than in winter, and it was off through customs. Some guy wanted to search me, and I opened my bags. After seeing only clothes on the top layer of both my bags, and not the boxes of illegal drugs he expected to see, he said oh, that's all fine", and didn't bother to rummage through anything and instead sent me on my way.

I met Dorina, who was happy to see me, which was a bonus for me! After fending off 6 or so would-be taxi drivers, I found the bathrooms and there was a cleaning lady in there. Just normal, apparently. We fended off more taxi drivers to make our way to the shuttle bus, which for a mere 4 lei (about 30 cents), would take us downtown, where we would change shuttles, and for another 4 lei, take us to our apartment. Ha ha, taxi drivers who wanted to rip us off by charging us $8 for a ride.

The apartment in which we stayed is a subject of much wailing and gnashing of teeth for me. I am not proud of making Dorina cry several times over the next several days. I am not proud of complaining about the conditions. I am not proud of my easy life of luxury compared to the Moldovans which lead me to complain about these conditions. I am not proud that I am inconsiderate and I am not proud that I cannot control sustain even these moderately uncomfortable conditions and realize that things (probably) are worse in other parts of the world (maybe). However, some things I have gotten used to in my life, and although they may not be absolutely essential to living, they are difficult for me to do without in my trained state. One of those things, is, unless camping, or in Africa, or some other place where conditions don't easily permit it, cold water should be available. I think this was the biggest thing.
The others are details, but again, unless conditions prevent them, they should be available. A fridge, and hot water. Understandably, when camping, or in a village, these things might not be available to you. But we were in an apartment in a reasonably sized city. There was no fridge, there was no hot water, and there was NO COLD WATER! I couldn't understand this at all. We weren't in the middle of a desert, we weren't on safari in a jungle (where water probably would have been anyway). We weren't even in some small isolated village. Where was the cold water?? It maybe wouldn't have been so bad if the apartment looked in good repair and perhaps the lack of cold water was just a temporary thing. The apartment was a total wreck. The floor in the bedroom consisted of warped floor boards. The hallway and kitchen had bricks, some of which were broken, revealing the concrete underneath. This concerned me, as the entire apartment block is made of concrete, and here we are, one layer of concrete blocks torn up revealing concrete underneath. How much more concrete was between us and the floor below us? The only room with a normal floor was the living room, which was actually Dorina's roommates room. The apartment building was a total wreck. There was one light on our entire floor in the hallway, which happened to be outside our door. The rest of the corridors were completely dark. There was no glass in the windows in the stairway, and cracked concrete made up the walls of the rest of the place. I couldn't understand where I was, or why. Dorina had looked at several other apartments, saying they were worse than this one, before spending $70 for a months rent, and spending a week painting and cleaning it for my benefit. The place looked like the cold water would never work again, and this was really not making me happy. It did have a nice view of parts of the city, being on the 16th floor. And the bed was comfortable. The electricity worked, the gas worked, and the phone worked, too. However, I think I could do without those things, and trade them for the ability to have a wash. Having a wash after 24 hours of flying is definite must for all travelers I know. And here I was, without this ability. You couldn't even flush the toilet, and being as hot as it was in this apartment, this was not a good thing. If most Moldovans lived like this, I could indeed understand why this was deemed "a poor country". This was terrible. Dorina felt happy that at least I understood this point, this time, because apparently she had felt distressed from my last visit when I said that Moldova "wasn't too bad". Anyway, luckily she had collected water into bowls, which could be heated by the still functioning gas oven, and facilitate the means of washing airline crap away from me.

I spent a week in this apartment, and my memories are few. It was damn hot. I sweated constantly. I desperately wanted to buy an electric fan, and Dorina seemed almost reluctant to let me do this, but finally after a day or so we did. I spent most of the time in the apartment in front of this fan, because if I went anywhere else, I started to sweat instantly, and I was also quite afraid of the other rooms. 3 washes a day were required of me. After a time in front of the fan, due to the heat and the lack of places to sit in front of fans in other rooms, (or places to sit at all) I would fall asleep. The cold water started to work reliably, which made me somewhat happier, but the other deficiencies of the apartment made themselves more apparent to me. Dorina said I would always find something to complain about no matter where I lived, and I started to think maybe she was right, and that somehow I was deficient in the good-natured areas of my personality.

A fridge arrived on my second day there. Very small, and like most other things in this apartment, didn't work very well.
We ate out everyday that I stayed at that apartment, mostly because I was afraid of the kitchen. It was hot, there was no space in the fridge to keep stuff, and there often was not water to clean the dishes you have used while cooking, or even to wipe the table clean.
I think on my 2nd or 3rd day one of the elevators stopped working, leaving only a small, 4 person elevator working, and a long line of people waiting for it. This made me really quite depressed. I sat outside looking very miserable, understanding very well why every Moldovan I came across looked so grumpy. They felt like me. They had to ensure this no water business and no elevator business too.

I pleaded with Dorina to find us another place to live. I was prepared to pay a lot. She said it was difficult. I said just look anyway. She complained some more about all the time it would take. Well, compared to spending my holiday in that apartment, I would look all day. Eventually I told her that it couldn't be too hard. Just call a few places from the newspaper, and we'll jump in the taxi and have a quick look at them. Eventually, she conceded and we looked for another place.My mood improved a little in this week, and I wondered if perhaps I could survive living in this place after all. I wasn't about to reveal this to Dorina, though, who might jump at the chance to stay in her careful chosen apartment which she worked so hard to prepare for me. But, no, another apartment would still be better. For $70, I could have water again. We saw one place, far away, but relatively nice, for the same price, and I thought if we could find a place like this, only closer to town, it would be perfect.

One day, both elevators stopped working. We took the stairs to the 16th floor. The stairs were small, and it was relatively easy to get up them, to my surprise. I wasn't so bothered by the elevators anymore, (the didn't look like they should be operational in the first place, such was their crap condition) but it would still be nicer to be away from this apartment. My real joy started when I was washed and we were leaving to go outside. I got depressed when Dorina said it was time to go home. I really didn't like that apartment at all! It's quite strange that Dorina and her roommate didn't seem to sweat at all, and didn't seem to think even the slightest bad thing about this place. To them it was perfectly livable. I don't understand even now their mentality. That place was crap, and people shouldn't stand for it. Once Dorina swatted a fly in our room, and plaster fell off the walls. Not just a little bit either.
It's also a bit of a shame Dorina didn't look a bit longer for more apartments, because for a bit more effort, she could have found a perfectly clean one and not have spent so much time cleaning this crappy one which I condemned to hell so quickly after my arrival anyway. To be fair, she wasn't used to looking for apartments, and having seen 2 crappier ones before this, it would be easy to conclude that this apartment was the best she would find. Plus, I was demanding she find us a place, so I would not be "sleeping on the street" as I told her. I also told her off for her apparent lack of motivation. Well, now I see what that got me, so next time I think I'll be a bit nicer about it. Still, also, next time Dorina will be more aware of the variety of apartments available, so won't settle for less. Although I still get the feeling that quality is not high on many Moldovans lists of priorities. Next time, eh?

We visited Dorina's old apartment to see her old landlord a few times, and that apartment looked like a luxury place. My first impression when I saw that place last December was it was a bit run down, but it got to be cosy after a couple of days. After our new apartment, it really was luxury. It was still quite hot inside though.

Anyway. We eventually saw some more apartments. One was quite nice, just across the road, still very close to the markets (another good point about our apartment - that makes, er, two good points about it). No hot water, but it was clean, and in a shady place. Still only $70 a month. I liked it. But not Dorina, for some reason. We had a talk about it, but her reasons for not liking it turned out to be something quite different that would I might have thought. We looked at another place, a house. I was wondering "why would people rent their house??" A lot of people were sat outside, looking grumpy, behind a fence. We asked them if this was the place for rent (well, rather, Dorina did, cos they didn't know English). A friendly looking man came out from among the grumpy, and eagerly showed us a small apartment attached to the main house. Aha! The Moldovans have duplexes too! This was a good idea. The place was small, but clean, and had hot water, thanks to a gas furnace and hot water cylinder. I liked the place, but wasn't sure about the grumpy people outside. Anyway, the landlords at the other places we were due to see where not home, so we went to town. After some discussion a bit later, Dorina decided that this small duplex would be very nice for us, so in her usual way of making it sound like something that I wanted and not her, we agreed to call and take it. Hooray!

Later on in that day, we revisited this small duplex, discussed with the landlord some details, and agreed it was a nice place. We could move in on Thursday, after leaving a $20 deposit. Today was Tuesday, did this mean we would have to stay in the dreaded old apartment two more nights? I don't think so. I would prefer to stay in the village than that place again . . .
The next day we went to see Dorina's mum in the village. In January we visited this place too, and I had a rather nasty and unexpected asthma attack, which left my status as an animated and breathing human being in doubt for a night. But, as predicted, the village was indeed better in summer than winter. The village in summer is not too bad. I was epically impressed at being able to use more than one room in Dorina's mum's house. The house is pretty big, and quite nice. I spent a lot more time outside too, playing with the village animals, which was most amusing. My most enjoyable experience was eating dinner, at an actual table, and having Dorina's mum's homemade vodka wine. I think it is vodka with cherry's in it or something. It was still hot in the village, but I was adjusting to the heat a bit now, and it wasn't too terrible. We had a wash in a separate room with bowls and heated water, and that was OK. I attempted once to have a shower outside when it started to rain, but the rain was surprisingly cold!

When we returned to Chisinau, I was in a hurry to move out of the crappy apartment. As usual, Dorina put up a lot of resistance for some unknown reason. I think perhaps she thought I didn't appreciate her apartment finding & decorating efforts. I should have been a bit nicer, but there is a certain amount of shock to overcome at arriving in a foreign country and being stuck in a hot apartment with no cold water. Once we finally agreed to move, moving was completed very quickly. And so with the help of some taxi's, into the new apartment we moved. This new apartment was beautiful. It reminded me of a small motel room. It was small, but in my eyes, heaven. Outside our door were gorgeous sunflowers, and the grumpy people I saw on our previous visit turned out to be our landlords wife and his son and daughter in law, and they were splendidly un-grumpy this time. The apartment was not so hot, and we could get a great breeze blowing through it. Terrific stuff.

N.B. Note: this is where my original story ended. It's now more than six months after this trip, and I have reconstructed some events from notes I took while there. So they may be a bit out of order and seem unconnected!

They had Fanta in Moldova, and I was very happy. During the stay in the old, hot apartment, I brought this in huge amounts. There was a small shop next to the old apartment, and I went there pretty much every time we left or returned to the old apartment. This shop, inccidently, was undergoing some type of enlargement, as construction work was going on. This may have been the reason for the interrupted cold water in the apartment block. I eyed the construction workers angrily as I left the apartment every day. Apparently, too, there were notices of interruption of cold water services posted around the apartment, but as they were in a foreign language, I didn't know this. Dorina seemed reluctant to fill me in on the purpose of these notices, but that seemed to be what they were.

On my second day we went to a lake. I had seen this lake on my previous visit, but of course, it was frozen over. I remembered thinking what a pretty lake it must be in summer. And I was right. There was a sort of tree shaded area, with people laying around and sunbathing. I saw an old guy who looked just like Boris Yeltsin sleeping under a tree. Young boys walked around selling popcorn and beer, which I thought was extremely cool. There was a small stand selling other drinks. The lake itself was quite pretty, and many people enjoyed swimming and generally not being hot inside their brick apartment blocks. We rented a paddle boat thing and went around the lake in that for a while. Some boys ambushed us as we went under a bridge, and clung onto the back of the boat trying to get a ride. As we went under this bridge a second time on our way back, this got really bad, and the boat nearly sank! Dorina was yelling at them and slapping them with my sandals, getting quite upset. I had to jump off the boat and yell at them. They were quite afraid of that, for some reason. Little shits. At least they gave us no more trouble after that. This experience, although not terrible, was enough to make us not return to the lake again.
During one of the first days in the new apartment, I looked out the window and saw an old man asleep on the footpath. He was just sleeping. This was highly amusing to me. I took some photos of him. The landlady explained that the old guy had some kind of mental illness and that he just lived down the road. Apparently every time he drank alcohol, even just a little bit, he would end up like this, passed out on the street. This, I thought, was extraordinary. The landlady explained all this to me, and we didn't even speak the same language.
Some people tried to wake him up, and one industrious man woke him and helped him to his feet. Asking him if he was OK, he left. The old man, of course, wobbled, and fell over, almost hitting his head on the concrete. Much better to leave him asleep, I think.
We found a cafe/restaurant called Green Hills, downtown. The service was excellent. The food wasn't too expensive, but not entirely cheap by Moldovan standards either. I thought the food was rather plain, too. But excellent service! Our waiter, Vadim, who served us on several occasions, is to be highly commended, although I'm sure he was just 'doing his job'. (Note, on my 3rd trip to Moldova, Vadim was still working there. This is highly unusual to see the same person working at the same restaurant after 6 months in the USA!) I preferred sitting outside, but one night we ate inside too. An old english man was having dinner with a young Moldovan girl. I think this type of thing is quite common - mismatched foreign men & Moldovan women getting together. Although this seems like a great thing for the foreign men, it usually ends very badly. The happy mismatched couple get married, the girl gets to leave Moldova, and as soon as she can get unrestricted residency in whatever foreign country she's in, the marriage ends, and often large amounts of her husbands funds disappear. Moldovan girls are not there to be exploited, folks. They are just as clever as western women, and they really don't find older/fatter men attractive despite what your Russian marriage internet sites might tell you. I remember seeing another guy at my favorite pizza place, Pizza Pazza. A foreign guy, not as old as the english guy I had observed at Green Hills, maybe 30, maybe 35, with a very slender, well dressed Moldovan girl. He looked decent enough, but was a little overweight. The girl looked thoroughly pissed off at having to accompany him inside to ask where the bathrooms were for him, and then waiting for him to 'do his business'! Fair enough too, I suppose. For these guys who are trying to hook up with these Moldovan women, I suggest finding one in your age/weight/intelligence range. If you want it to last, and don't want to end up broke, that is. The other thing I noticed is the girls who want to leave Moldova are usually the ones who are not completely socially normal. The ones who are comfortable in Moldova aren't in a huge hurry to leave. I suppose there are always exceptions to my generalizations, but from the look of the statistics of foreign men/women divorce rates, this might be good advice to follow.
Downtown in summer is marvelous. The parks, the flowers, the people . . fantastic. Everything is within walking distance, the cafes set up their outside seating, more people are selling stuff, the sun is out longer - it's great. A high point was seeing people buying beer at McDonald's, and then drinking it outside in the McDonald's seating area, something that is not possible in the USA, and would probably get you arrested if you tried it.
Our new landlords are what might be called middle class in Moldova. They are not rich, but they are not begging for cash, either. If you own your own property in Moldova, then all your income can be used for pleasure, pretty much. Basic food is extremely cheap, so that's not a factor in your income, unless your income is really really small. Our landlords owned a Lada, expensive looking furniture, several televisions, and were always smiling (except for that first time we saw them). Sure there were huge houses up the road with several Mercedes parked outside or inside the gate, but who cares? Our landlords had everything they needed to be happy, and it showed in their smiles. It was certainly enough for me. Dorina thought that I would still be complaining, because my complaints about the old apartment meant somehow that I just liked to complain about anything. This did worry me for a time. I thought perhaps she was right, and I really do just like to complain about everything. But happily this turned out not to be true. Besides, I think that owning a Mercedes in Moldova would be more cause for stress than happiness. All that time spent worrying about someone stealing it, and trying to maintain the image of someone important enough to own one. What a hassle. The landlord one day came and grabbed us from our apartment and showed us to a door in the ground in the backyard. This turned out to be a wine cellar, where he makes his own wine!! This place was becoming cooler and cooler every day.
An interesting incident occurred one day. Dorina got a phone call on her cellphone, which was apparently a 'wrong number'. But since the caller was a male, and Dorina is a female, they had a conversation. It ended with him calling her several more times that day, and also in following days. She said this was fairly normal. To me, it's not so normal. This could be a product of boredom. Guys calling random numbers in the hope of getting some girl on the phone. But I think it also shows how friendly the girls in Moldova are. If this happened in the USA, or even Australia, the girls would probably call the police! This calling didn't continue beyond a few days however. Why? Well, one night we all got really drunk, and I told Dorina to call that guy back and invite him over. He was 'busy', apparently, and he never called again. I think we scared him off.

Dorina had to work for a few days, so I got to spend the majority of the day by myself. I watched a lot of TV, which was surprisingly good. I really liked watching American movies, with bad Russian dubbing over top of them. This is just were the movie is played, and one Russian guy speaks over top of the movie, so if you listen carefully, you can still hear the original voices. On most movies, this one Russian guy does all the voices, male and female, as well as for children! It's highly amusing. Atleechna! I also went for a walk one day, by myself. Dorina thought this was a horrible idea, but I thought I could manage. As usual, I didn't get ready until about 3pm, and then the walk commenced. I walked all the way to downtown, through the market, and then further. I wanted to explore a specific area of town which I hadn't been before. I encountered the train station accidently, a public swimming pool, and then started on my way to the area of town I wanted to see. I found a rather deserted look stretch of road, and I probably should have caught the trolley bus at this point, as trolley buses always go somewhere, right?. But I didn't. I kept walking, up hills mostly. I ended up on top of a big hill, with a few houses. I found a really good view of the city. Excellent! But I didn't find any commercial areas, which I had hoped to see. So, after a brief rain storm (see photos!) I looked for the tallest apartment block, and set off towards it. After some time, I found a small commercial area, but it wasn't quite what I hoped. I noticed that the rain had knocked tiles off some of the apartment blocks!! Another reason to avoid those places. I also saw women walking around barefoot, holding there shoes. It was raining, so I thought perhaps they liked the feeling of water on their feet. In Australia, it's common to go without shoes, even to school when you're a kid. After a bit, it dawned on me that these women probably only owned one pair of shoes, and were walking barefoot, holding their shoes, to avoid getting them damaged by the water. I eventually found my way to a shuttle bus, and jumped on. Being about 5pm, it was full of people heading home from work. And, just having rained, the windows were streamed up. I couldn't see past the people to the window! Once a few people got off, the window was still steamed up, so I still couldn't tell where I was. Eventually I thought I recognized something, so got off, and luckily, it was the right stop. Hooray!
Once we walked Diana home. She was Dorina's friend who lived in the old apartment that we vacated. She had originally moved in with Dorina, as she had no place to live, for a month or two. Since Dorina had already paid the rent for that place, it was still 'ours', and so Diana continued to live there. When we got to the 16th floor where the apartment was, the single light in the hallway had blown out. So, Diana, in a cheerful voice said "Well, I'll go to the apartment now!", and lit a match, so she could see down the hallway to the apartments door. This was hugely amusing to me! Diana added something to the mystery of Moldovans. Her father apparently is some chief executive guy for an oil company in another town, not too far from Chisinau. So, he has a bit of money, apparently. So I presume her family home isn't too shabby. Diana herself was always nicely dressed, and seemed well brought up. Why, then, was she content to live in such a crappy apartment? It was a complete mystery to me. Dorina's mum's house in the village was 100 times better. It had no cold water either, but you could at least go outside by means of a door instead of a non-functioning dodgy elevator to get it, and parts of the wall did not collapse every time you swatted a fly. So, I suppose that Diana's father was not too rich. He did bring us the fridge for the old apartment, but it was tiny, and it didn't really work. He did seem to own a car, but it was probably a Lada.
One day, Dorina and I went to a grocery store called "Green Hills", the same name as the cafe/restaurant we went to where Vadim works. This is your typical western grocery store, with all kinds of crap available for purchase. We chose some crap, and stood in the checkout line, where the Russian lady in front of us invited her Russian friend at the end of the line to push in. This was a bit rude. Then, this Russian let HER Russian friend from the end of the line push in, too. This caused Dorina to protest, but to no avail. How very rude. She told me that Russians are like this. I looked back at the line behind us, some 8 or 9 people, all being quiet, and not protesting. They looked Moldovan, not Russian, so this may have been the reason they too were not trying to push in. I don't really know much about the Moldovan/Russian differences in Moldova, but this incident was certainly a black mark against the Russians. It also gave me an opportunity to swear out loud in English, something which I enjoyed immensely. Dorina said most people understand English swear words, but if they did, no one made any fuss. For a bunch of people used to others pushing in front of them, this came as no surprise. This attitude of 'putting up with shit' came about apparently because people were just given so much shit to deal with that they just gave up fighting. Well, I can understand this attitude a little bit. This is probably why Dorina and Diana were happy to endure the harsh conditions of that crappy apartment we stayed in. However, as I proved myself, in this day and age in Moldova, better opportunities exist, and with a little bit of effort, you can make things better for yourself quite easily. Finding decent apartments is not necessarily that hard, nor expensive. And one day soon, people shall start to protest about others pushing in front of them in lines.
We decided to visit a town called Soroca, in the north of Moldova. One of Dorina's friends lived there. We decided to take a bus there. I hadn't been on a bus before, so thought 'why not?'. It was a modern bus, not too shabby, and the cost of the 3 hour journey was very low, about $2 or $3. We set off, and the inside of the bus was hot. Very hot. There was one vent which someone opened, allowing a cool breeze through, but someone else complained, saying the breeze hit them in the face. So the vent was closed. People would rather endure the heat, it seemed, than put up with a wind in their faces! I was sweating constantly. I was not at all happy. I practiced more of my swearing-out-loud-in-English routine, which was proving to be very satisfying for me, although not effective in restoring any lost breeze to the bus. Dorina, I noticed was not sweating at all. This was amazing! How is it possible? Most of the other people on the bus dozed off from the heat, the suffering apparent on their faces, but a look of 'well, we're used to suffering'. The country side was not too interesting, but it was OK. We stopped at several places to let people off at various villages, and the bus driver would get water from the roadside wells to drink. Entering Soroca was pretty cool. We went through some winding roads, and saw the city in the distance. We were dropped off in the middle of town, which was quite quiet. Sort of like a very mini Chisinau. We met Dorina's friend, who was with another girl, dressed up in short skirts and a lot of makeup. We went to this other friends apartment, which was very crappy from the outside, but remarkably luxurious inside. Apparently, this girls family owned some restaurant in town, and could afford all this stuff. There was a big screen television, deep pile carpets, an immaculate kitchen, elegant chandliers - but no gas, and no hot water. Due to some mix up with plans, Dorina's friend said that we had no where to stay, and the hotels were inaccessible to us, as we both forgot to bring our passports. After some phone calling, her friend arranged some place for us - an apartment of the son of one of her families friends. By then it was dark, and we walked along the river front to this apartment. The owner was away in Italy, working. The apartment had no gas, no hot water, and no electricity! It was also quite beautiful inside, lovely wood floors, expensive looking furniture. It's a shame that Moldova is quite poor. The owner of this apartment probably just grew tired of not having hot water or gas, and decided to piss off to Italy, but if some of these commodities were available in Moldova more readily, this nice apartment in the quiet but charming looking town of Soroca would be quite a nice place to live. Dorina and I went to a near-by bar for something to eat. It was a run down place, but otherwise OK. I've heard many stories about alcoholic Russians in small towns, and I believe I saw some of them in this bar! Ukrainians, actually. Dorina said that most people she ran into in Soroca only spoke Russian. We slept in our comfortable but un-lit apartment, and the next day decided to get the hell out of town, after some brief sightseeing. It's not that we didn't like the place, but the lack of basic comforts such as soap was a bit more than we could bear. We toured an old castle, strolled by the river and had a look at Ukraine on the other side. We had a walk around the gypsies houses - huge houses built on a hill. They may have even had hot water and soap, who knows? We saw many young girls dresses very scantily with much makeup. I wondered when the last time they had a hot shower was? Yes, I am a biased westerner used to hot showers. I can't help it, I am spoiled. Although, in hindsight, after a few more days I'm sure I would have adjusted. Habits are just hard to break, I think. After all, when I was a kid, I used to only have one shower per week. Getting clean was slightly uncomfortable for me back then. Dorina told me that I had high standards. I was dumbfounded. All I wanted was a nice shower, some soap, some good food. That was all! I don't expect the earth. I guess the standards of Moldovans are even lower than mine! It was amazing to hear this. Every young person in Soroca seemed to own a cellphone, but yet apartments did not even have hot water or gas. What the hell is going on? This reminds me of what I saw in Chisinau. Many vans from the local cable company were driving around town, men getting out to install cables, etc. The vans said it was a "Moldovan-American venture". Ah, good old Americans. They care enough to help out Moldova by giving everyone cable TV (which they then charge for, of course). But some people still do without even cold water. Terrific. We found a nice Lada taxi to take us back to Chisinau. It was a crappy Lada, almost falling apart, but the ride was comfortable, cheap, and we could even wind down the windows. The driver was a very cool guy, who, although I did not understand a word he said, made a very favorable impression on me. I calculated the amount of gas he'd use for the Chisinau trip, and worked out he used most of our fair money for gas. Very little left over for profit, and even less left over for repairing his Lada. When we got back to our nice, new apartment, we were very happy. Hot water, soap, chocolate milk. How little we needed to be happy. Comfort. It seems people immigrate to other countries to be more comfortable. Wars are fought over resources which are used to make people more comfortable. People work and are stressed for comfort. What would life be like if we were perfectly happy with the comfort level provided by living in a bush? Would wars, stress, and conflicts disappear? So, the Soroca trip raised some interesting points. The western world is obviously more comfortable than Chisinau. Chisinau is more comfortable than Soroca. But Chisinau provided all I needed, or even really wanted, to be happy. Life in the western world often leaves me feeling empty. But yet people fight to maintain a western level of comfort. It's a bit weird. Obviously, my view is still a bit distorted. I never lived in Moldova, never worked, never understood the languages. And my trip to Soroca was only for one night. I don't know.
Hand washing my laundry brought to my attention a fowl smell. Coming from my clothes? Does the sum total of the dirt in all my clothes really smell that bad? Hand washing isn't too bad. I have done it myself on trips before. You get quite a lot of exercise wringing the clothes out, etc. I could never get the clothes completely clean, which was a bit of a bummer. I really like clean clothes! Some Moldovans own washing machines, but a lot still wash things by hand, too. I think washing machines are cool, too. Actually, I found it was the one western appliance I missed the most, upon my return to the USA. Cars, computers, fast internet, air conditioning - I can do without them. A washing machine would be more difficult to live without.
I saw an interesting ad on TV. A young boy approached a BMW stopped at traffic lights and knocked on the window. The driver put the window down a bit and stuck a one lei note out the window for the boy. The boy shock his head, and held up a sign that said "Pay the taxes". They both smiled. Citizens not paying tax is one of the main reasons Moldova is so poor. That, and corruption!
However, I noticed the governments tax schedule. Some of the taxes are 40% or more! I can't imagine any Moldovan, used to keeping all profits he or she makes, willingly donating almost half to the government. I think they should start off lower. Perhaps 10% tax for things, and the government makes an extra effort to show the citizens that it is improving things around Moldova with there money. Once the people see the improvements, and realize that they are directly from their tax money, and not disappearing into the pockets of some greedy politician, they might be more willing to pay more in tax. I don't think these things can be forced.
I noticed a week or two into my trip that I was feeling a bit strange. I couldn't quite explain the feeling. I thought the change of time, food, conditions, etc was to blame. One day I brought some Pepsi from the store, and immediately after drinking it, I felt normal again. I had been getting enough caffeine from tea, coffee, etc, but I had no idea that my body was slightly addicted to Pepsi. Although a similar thing happened when I visit Australia and try to do without it, too. I feel strange, can't pin-point the reason why, and mum rushes out and buys some Pepsi for me, which restores me to feeling normal again. I'm sure I could overcome this addiction if I wanted to. But Pepsi isn't the most harmful substance in the world, so I won't be trying to overcome it anytime soon!
The rest of my trip in Moldova was spent relaxing and hanging out. We visited some apartments with Dorina's friend Diana, who was looking to buy one. We saw a variety of places, varying in price and quality. Out of them all, I still prefer our little apartment/house. Apartments don't do it for me. I like to be on ground level, with the outside right there, and not down several flights of stairs. Apartments are OK, and sensible, I think, but they are not for me. I like back yards, front yards, space . . .
We went to a nightclub called Dance Cafe several times. It became one of my favorite places to go, along with Pizza Pazza. It was always a pleasure to see the Moldovan way of running a nightclub. We also visited a nightclub called Star Trak or something like this. It was pretty cool inside, well designed. I've seen American nightclubs which are far fancier inside, but they lack something which Moldovan nightclubs have. A kind of 'soul' or atmosphere. Lack of imagination, perhaps. Too much money is thrown at decorations without much thought. In Moldova, sometimes imagination is all there is, and the end result is more pleasing to the eye, at least to me. I'm not so easily fooled by expensive things, I guess. Quite often the price of objects becomes the focal point, instead of their functionality or purpose in the overall design of things. And that, I think, is stupid.
I found that I had escaped a particularly bad heat wave in Nebraska when I returned. I had the usual feelings upon my return. It was sort of nice to be back. I had all my western luxuries. But half way through the second day of being back, it all got boring again. All these things which I do not need. People being obsessed with them, and forgetting to have fun. My roommates are a good example of this, watching TV 12 hours per day, on a regular basis. Not doing dishes because the TV is more important. Crazy stuff.
I really did like the washing machine though.

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