Saturday, November 24, 2012

the bad, the worse, and the ugly

So I have mentioned a few things negative about life here in Russia, but I feel that overall my posts reflect my romanticized version of Russia, and I'm well aware that I romanticize it. To be fair, it's hard not to with the stunning beauty that is St. Petersburg. Therefore, this post has a negative tone. And I will list things by how I view them: the bad, the worse, and the ugly.

The Bad: Many people in the United States are aware of the dangers of life and it is often cited that cities are more dangerous than the burbs or rural areas for crime rates. However, even cities are relatively safe with the exception of certain neighborhoods. For SF, people feel more safe in Pac-Heights or North Beach than say the Tenderloin. And crime usually happens in poorer districts and poorer cities, say Oakland versus SF. Or at least that's the perception. I haven't looked up stats and I know North Oakland now is better and South Oakland and Hayward, etc are worse off. Pretty much anywhere in SPB except maybe on the main street (Nevskiy Prospekt) in down town is subject to hooligans, and even then I probably wouldn't walk around there at 3am either. But certainly around here, you never know behind what corner or in what alley the hooligans might be hanging out in. When I give Karma her late night walk I avoid the courtyards and shortcuts and stick to the main streets in the light. Sometimes I also keep my pocketknife in hand. I definitely notice places of new graffiti on morning walks and if something seems sketchy I cross to the other side of the street or stick near the government building on our corner b/c a guard is always stationed there. One of my co-workers was followed into her building when she and her boyfriend returned home after work last February and they were attacked and robbed in their own building's lobby. Chances are rare that something would happen, but it is a possibility. I only had what may have been 1 possibility, and even then I'm not sure the people were hooligans, just some fast walking teenagers also wanting to get home fast since it was late at night. And because of gun laws here I don't have to worry about guns. Basically, one just has to be aware there are hooligans around and to be perceptive of who is around you and where you are. This is why I only rank this in the "bad" category.

And to be perfectly fair, one would think the north side of the UC Berkeley campus would be a fairly safe place b/c it's full of students and theological schools and up in the hills lots of wealthy people who want to keep their wealth. However, in 4 years of living there, I read more reports of robberies (namely students with backpacks potentially carrying laptops) there than anyone would ever expect. The difference is that the north side, the criminals traveled into the neighborhood to commit the crime, whereas the Tenderloin and SPB, the hooligans are also residents.

The Worse: It tells you something that I find architectural collapse and dirty neighborhoods to be worse than hooligans and crimes. Perhaps this says that either the crimes aren't really as bad as one might think (hence not getting posted about earlier and even when I do post it's the least category) or it tells you something about my taste, or it tells you something about the system itself. Perhaps a little bit of each. With the exception of downtown buildings, many of the buildings in SPB are not as kept up as they ought to be. All those glorious pictures of SPB with beautiful imperial buildings like the Hermitage or Gostiniy Dvor are all downtown. They're bright and colorful and breathtaking. And then you move to the side streets. The buildings themselves remain beautiful. I love the architecture and many times the less bright colors are still beautiful. And the decaying certainly adds character to the city and the buildings, but it's also sad to see so many beautiful buildings that need repair. The plaster/cement has cracked off revealing the brick core of the buildings (side note, Karma and I watch progress of the construction of the brick core of a new building nearby on our walks). A patch over the holes and a new paint job would do many of the buildings good. And it is being done. A few weeks ago the scaffolding came down around a building that I pass on my way to work and it's a bright tangerine color. Some other buildings are getting repaired, and the wall to a car maintenance center a block over has been fixed. However, there is so much that needs to be done the maintenance isn't fast enough.

I place this in the "worse" category though because it helps to demonstrate the poverty here. A stellar imperial city that doesn't look imperial because they don't have the money to fix the things up at a fast enough pace. This in turn leads to higher crime rates, hence why the crime is bad, but the system is worse. The money exists because of oil and natural gas and other things. However, decaying and crumbling buildings are not receiving the money and the people aren't receiving the money.

In addition to crumbling architecture is pollution. There is poor air quality and it gets worse as more people buy cars. The city often has clouds which means pollution doesn't escape easily to begin with. The majority of people still use public transit, but more and more people are using cars, but they're not using them out of convenience. Rather they use them as a status symbol. People are getting wealthier (yes this contradicts the previous statement about poverty, but it is possible to have an impoverished system while people still get wealthier, I just don't know how to fully describe it) and so they drive a car to show that they're part of the class with money. The public transit here is wonderful. I have a choice of a great metro system, bus, tram, trolley, you name it. There is little need for a car within the city, yet many people still choose to use them. I feel a lesson from the 1950s USA would be really handy here.

Pollution is also found in the form of garbage on the street. In many places the city provides garbage cans and I love this. But in some places they don't and there are a few places Karma and I pass that have bottles, and cans, and food wrappers. At least most of the trash is still found in piles, but it'd be nice if it could make it another 100-500 meters to a dumpster or a small curbside bin. Trash is also noticeable in some areas outside the city like a lagoon the train passes on the way to Lisiy Nos.

The Ugly: Ok, this ugliness has to do with both the US and Russia. The ugliness here is another sickness. Daria ended up with tonsillitis. Because the weather is what it is here, a lot of people end up being ill this time of year. The student with whom I share 3 other teachers for her 6 days a week intensive November course told me that her son has tonsillitis (although he's out in Siberia). Two of the administrators from work know someone currently with tonsillitis, and my boss didn't have tonsillitis, was out of the office for 6 business days (M-F and the following M) with something. Daria's ugliness included being homebound for 10 days. You cannot go outside because your body cannot fight the illness and the weather. My boss told me the same was her case. Not even short trips. I had to give Karma all the walks and the grandparents ran to the apteka (pharmacy) to get Daria her medicines. Not the most pleasant experience even when Daria started to feel better. And grandma was quite strict about what Daria was allowed to do. Actually it resembled a parent to a 6 year old more than a healthy adult concerned about a sick adult.

Russian ugliness: weather leading to lots of sickness. On the flip side, American ugliness:

Yes, Daria was sick. However, we had a home visit from the doctor rather than taking her to a hospital. The doctors did all they needed to do in the bedroom instead of rushing off to a sterile hospital bed and/or an ER that is full of other sick people (because that's a genius idea - make all the sick people with various illnesses and their healthy accompaniments stand around together for a few hours filling out forms). Nope, we had a home doctor visit, told what we needed to buy (for cheap) at the apteka, and only if things got much worse do we go to the hospital.

The US needs to get on board with socialized medicine. We spend 2.5 times the next most expensive country for healthcare and our best is in specialization, not general care. I am a foreign national which means my healthcare isn't as good as the citizens and I still get better care than options through the GTU or Daria's school or any other basic package in the US. I'd have to earn $150K + to buy the package that I get here. Absolutely if I need specialized care, the US is the place to go. But why are we 47th in the world behind all other 1st world countries and even many 2nd world countries for general care. Do we need the quality of specialized care because we don't prevent and take care of the general that it gets so bad we need special care? Wouldn't we save ourselves lots of problems by prevention and general care? Why do I as an American in Russia get the lowest package here and I still get a better package than I did in the US?

It was really kinda cool to experience a home visit from a doctor. No, Daria didn't like getting the shot she received, and the pills and the gargling twice a day sucked, although the pills are easily affordable. I think the 10 days under house arrest by illness was the worst of it. However, I place all the health issues in the ugly category because one, getting sick really is ugly. No one likes it, it feels terrible and you can't do anything. But it's also in the ugly category because the American system for healthcare is ugly. To all my American family, friends, and acquaintances: if you don't like Obamacare and are the type who wants to repeal it, please do so; but if you do replace it with socialized + private option. The wealthy still buy better packages of health care, and the wealthy here opt for a better option than the socialized one. I do not advocate no private options for those who want to pay for it. But frankly we'd be better off with universal healthcare + private option.

Now to a happier topic. But first Michigan and the school that shall not be named. GO BLUE!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear about the hooligans and the graffiti. We experienced a lot of graffiti in Europe also, which made us sad. So many beautiful buildings and old walls, and then to see the graffiti. Some of the "kids" doing it are quite talented, and it is a shame that their art skills are not put to better use. As for protection, wouldn't Karma protect you when you are taking her for a walk? I know when you are walking to and from work that she is not with you, but while you are walking her seems like she would protect you from anybody. I know, however, you do not want to put her in harm's way, either.