Today I saw the other Moscow – or maybe the other Russia.
After I left the Internet office, I took a stroll down the main drag of downtown. It was like New York – not the New York that we have now – the New York before it turned into a dirty welfare town. Not every young woman wore short skirts. Some wore skirts with slits up to the waist. Some wore belts that doubled as skirts. A few spoilsports even wore slacks. High fashion, Mercedes, and money were everywhere. There are stores with English signs and European products and everywhere the hustle and bustle of money being made and spent. No parking on the sidewalk here – selling yes – parking no. These people are making as much in a day as Larisas’s friends are making in a month – and spending it fast.
There are a lot of underground passages in Moscow. The downtown streets are at least 8 lanes wide and impossible to cross on the surface, so they have tunnels under the streets and between the Metro stations. There are a lot of tunnels and every one is lined with mini-stores.
They close in a section of wall less than 5 feet deep and about 10 feet wide with aluminum windows and a door with a selling window in it. They sell music, nylons, makeup, cigarettes, office supplies, perfumes, eyeglasses, beer, and clothing – from a space where the proprietor literally has to step outside to turn around. These are the people that are building the new homes on the road to Tver and driving to work in their new cars. I understand now why the rest of Russia feels that Moscow is a foreign place. I wonder how long the two Russias can coexist. There must be tremendous tension building up.
We had one of Larisas’ old friends over for dinner tonight. She‘s a doctor working in a lab, and she makes $200 a month. Her husband is a computer engineer working at the Cosmos Hotel for about $350 a month. She is unhappy that her sister makes $1000 a month as a hairdresser. Even the nurses take tips for “special services” – like having your blood test ordered on time -and make more money that a doctor
We talked for quite a while about why doctors are paid so little and why she didn’t quit and find a job that makes more money. It comes down to two things. Old communist jobs are paid nothing. That includes doctors because they are paid by the state, and the other factor is that doctors don’t see a choice.
One of the major remnants of communism is an attitude that nothing can get better and a firm belief that $200 a month for life is better than $1000 a month for as long as your job lasts. Leo says that there are people working in government paid positions for as little as $35 a month – while their neighbors buy BMWs. This can’t go on forever.
I can’t wait to see if prosperity or despair wins the day. Today we are going to see more of Larisa’s friends. She loves to see them, cries inconsolably when they part, and needs lots of ice cream to make her smile again. Thankfully, Baskin Robins has also invaded Russia. We have one a block from the apartment. Tonight, the Russian Circus. We are leaving in two days and this is the first tourist thing that I will have seen.