12 March 2007

Moving adventures, or Katy and the Big Snow

Ok, here is the promised post about my new apartment and our big snowstorm etc. And just so you know, I've already regained my sense of humor about many of the things mentioned in this post (which I wrote on Friday night).

Let me give you some advice. Maybe this advice will seem obvious to you, but for some reason, it wasn't obvious to me, and on the off chance that some poor soul can learn from my mistake, I'm passing it on. Ok, are you ready? Here it is:

Never, ever make the decision to move into an apartment under the following conditions:
1) you don't have access to a car to move your things;
2) they're forecasting the blizzard of the century to hit the day after you sign the lease; and
3) you live in the Bad Traffic Capital of the World, a title which, if it exists, must surely be held by Vladivostok. If such a title doesn't exist, it does now, and I hereby confer it on Vladivostok.

I think that's all I'm going to say about the general mayhem that ensues when you try to find an apartment in Vladivostok (mostly because the wounds are still too fresh for me to write about it with any sense of humor), and just offer this brief recap before returning to the issues of traffic and the blizzard: I decided in January that I wanted to move out of the convenient-but-exorbitantly-expensive dormitory, and after much strife, I found someone I'd be willing to share an apartment with, and we found a relatively centrally-located apartment we could actually afford, no small feat in Vlad's real estate market. We did this, incidentally, by promising to teach our landlady English and French (my roommate is French) in exchange for reduced rent. Now that the lease is signed, I'm hoping the landlady will forget all about this agreement. Pictures and stories about the apartment will come later, when I regain my sense of humor about, among other things, the fact that we only have one bed and the fact that I now live a 40-minute walk away from work (as compared to my one-point-five minute walk when I lived in the dormitory).

So on Sunday/Monday we were hit with the blizzard of the century. Or so they say, anyway. I'd guess it's accurate, because I've never seen so much snow in a city before. I'm a poor judge of snow depth, and it drifted a lot, but I'm sure we got a foot and a half minimum. Probably two feet. If that doesn't sound like much, then it was more than two feet. Because when I say "blizzard of the century," I don't mean the century that's only seven years old. I mean Vladivostok hasn't seen this much snow in a hundred years.

Imagine this scene: The sidewalks of Svetlanskaya, one of Vlad's main thoroughfares, are covered in two feet of uncleared snow. The street itself vaguely resembles a really nice ski slope – several inches of packed powder – thanks to all the cars that are driving on it. Or sitting on it, more accurately. Incidentally, Vlad has more cars per capita than any other city in Russia, thanks to our proximity to Japan and status as a commercial port. And I think Vlad residents have some kind of Pavlovian response to snow that causes them to all get into their cars and drive around aimlessly, because that's the only explanation for the sheer volume of vehicles on the road. Anyway, these vehicles are at a standstill, because even under the best conditions Vlad's streets are laid out in such a way that the city is one giant traffic jam for about 8 hours of every 24. They're being passed by hordes and hordes of pedestrians walking in the street.

On Monday morning, I was one of those pedestrians. (Why, I don't know, since we obviously didn't have any classes at the university. I guess the Pavlovian response to snow got me as well.) I found this mass exodus amusing enough that it allowed me to have a sense of humor about the fact that if I hadn't signed that lease, I wouldn't be walking two miles to work. Briefly, anyway; that was another thing I quickly lost my sense of humor about, because pedestrians walking in the street and cars sitting in traffic jams became the theme of the week. I'm tempted to applaud the city administration for at least bringing plows out to clear some of the snow off the roads, because they didn't do that for our last blizzard, but on the other hand, shouldn't we expect a bit more than that? Maybe not, since we currently don't have a mayor – he was arrested on embezzlement charges, or maybe misuse of funds. Something to do with money. At any rate, the city is a disaster. Residents claim that this happens every time it snows, because of a combination of poor planning, unfamiliarity with snow (Vlad's usually pretty dry in the winter, I'm told), and the city's innumerable steep hills. But they also claim it's never been this bad.

So as of today, there's still snow everywhere, although it's increasingly in eight-foot piles instead of a two-foot blanket. (Funny scene: an entire phys ed class at the Pacific State University of Economics forced outside with snow shovels, halfheartedly clearing the sidewalk in front of their main academic building.) There's still a constant citywide traffic jam – in fact, I think traffic has gotten progressively worse throughout the week, maybe because the roads are clearer and more people think it's safe to drive. Despite the number of cars on the road, no one seems to be actually getting anywhere – our Wednesday night volunteer English class was canceled, and even on Friday I had a total of six out of eighteen students. The buses, overcrowded even on normal days, are so stuffed with people that I decided early in the week that the physical stress of walking to work and back, even on snowy, slushy sidewalks, is far preferable to the emotional stress of wedging myself into a sardine can, traveling at a pace of three blocks an hour, and fighting my way toward the doors in the hope that I can situate myself properly to be forcefully expelled from the bus with minimal bodily injury when the doors open at my stop. So far my knee agrees with me, as it's hardly put up a complaint against all the walking. Thank you, knee. You are being good to me.

Needless to say, all this has put a damper on my moving plans – since the taxis that are running at all are price-gouging, and there's no room on the bus for boxes or bags, my stuff has been making its way very, very slowly from the dorm to the apartment. But I'm almost done, except for a problematic suitcase full of books and a pair of no-longer-necessary crutches. They might have to wait another week or two.

So, in conclusion, here's a slightly more useful list of advice for travelers to Vladivostok:
1) If it snows, don't leave your hotel or apartment. For, like, a week. It doesn't matter if you have somewhere to be – no one else is going to be there, either.
2) If you must leave your dwelling, wear waterproof boots and avoid buses at all costs. Or if you need to take the bus and it's between 8 am and 8 pm, allow two and a half hours for the ride, if the ride is more than half a mile. If the ride is less than half a mile, what's wrong with you? You should be walking.
3) If you need a taxi, call at least two hours in advance.

Ok, I think that's all. In closing (for real this time), happy belated International Women's Day to all you women out there! It's quite a big deal in the former Soviet Union, and in addition to giving us a day off of work yesterday (inasmuch as anyone was working this week anyway), it's supplied me with several boxes of chocolate (apparently the traditional Women's Day gift for platonic or professional relationships). So as a holiday, I approve.


Anonymous said...

Sell the crutches! They're very good. They were made in Switzerland or somewhere like that.


catnapping said...

I enjoyed your post. I live in Montana. And we've experienced the same sort of lunacy during those rare occasions of heavy snow fall.

I remember December of 96, we got almost 5 feet of snow, and all of a sudden everyone need to go to the store to rent videos and buy alcohol. Cars were in wrecks everywhere.