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> July 14 – First experiences of Russia, or Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on a shoestring budget
post Sep 19 2006, 09:36 PM
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Thursday, 13 July – evening
After we left the airport we drove through Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and checked into two different hotels. The students, Jody and some of the other scientists are staying at the Hotel Ostrov. I am staying at Hotel Ivrasnia with Ben and Mike and the palynologists (pollen scientists), Pat Anderson, from the UW, and three Russian scientists from Magadan, which is on the northern end of the Sea of Okhotsk. We will be staying in the hotels until at least Sunday. Ben wants to begin moving onto the ship on Sunday, but we may have to wait until Monday. Either way, our hotel rooms are reserved through Sunday night.

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A view from the cab as we drove through Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The town is very rundown looking, with lots of old buildings and roads with lots of potholes.

Our first order of business was to get some food. In Russia, eating at a restaurant is a luxury, so there are very few restaurants and they are priced accordingly (that is, expensively). So we ate as the Russians do. We went down to the corner to a tiny little grocery to buy some food to have a Russian picnic. The inside of the store was only about 10 feet by 20 feet and all of the food and other items were behind a counter and on shelves.

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A view inside the store where we bought our fist Russian meal.

There was a meat counter, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods, bottled water and a large display of chewing gum. Ben asked the shop lady for some sausage, something that looked like smoked chicken legs, but we decided was probably duck or goose, cheese, bread, water, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes and a jar of pickles. We took it all back to the hotel rooms and had our picnic.
Eventually, Ben and I headed over to the other hotel, where I met Pat, my roommate, and we settled in for the evening. The hotel provides toothbrush and toothpaste and soap, so I was set until morning. I showered and hit the hay.
Our hotel is right next to the railroad tracks, so my sleep was not undisturbed. Pat said our options were to have the window closed and a muggy room or window open with train noise. Given the temperature, I opted for window open. But it was nice to actually lie down and I soon fell asleep for at least 9 hours. The end of my first ‘day’ in Russia.

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The view from my window in the Hotel Ivrasnia.

Friday, 14 July
Yesterday, Pat, one of the Russian scientists named Alexandre, Sasha, a friend of theirs that lives in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk who has a car and I did some shopping for expedition gear – looking for shovels, staple gun staples and WD-40. While we were out, we also located some of the most essential toiletries that I would need and some underwear. I had borrowed a shirt from Dena and could make do with my sandals, but needed some deodorant, hand lotion and conditioner to get by as well as some more underwear.

Shopping in Russia, needless to say, is an interesting experience. All of the shops are arranged so that the goods are behind counters and in display cases or arranged along the walls. The shop help will show you items and help you select what you might need. Unlike the United States where you browse the aisles and find what you want yourself and then when you can’t find it trying to find a clerk and there are none around. Also, each little shop is separately operated and you can never predict what brands or selection you will find. And you have to go to separate stores for each thing – like one store for lotions and hair products, another store for toothpaste and pain relievers. Very specialized, but very random. No one stop shopping in Russia!

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The inside of a bookstore (where we were sent to locate staples). All of the books and such are behind the counter and the clerks help you locate what you want.

All of the transactions are strictly cash. In the United States you could go for days or weeks without needing actual dollar bills anymore, just relying on your credit or debit card. In Russia, you can’t do anything without cash. Most businesses just had a calculator that the clerk would add everything up – no cash registers, no tax added. You give them the money and that’s it. Of course, we needed to try to get receipts since our expenses are paid for with NSF money. Most clerks were pleasant enough with doing that, but it definitely wasn’t something they typically did!
With Sasha as interpreter we tried to find underwear for me. THAT was very challenging! The first shop had cotton underwear that looked like the waistband would come up to my armpits. We asked for something shorter and she sent us to another store. That store sold lingerie, such as string thongs and fancy lace bikinis. THAT certainly wasn’t going to be comfortable for working in the field. Finally, we found a store that had a good selection of tasteful and reasonably sized underwear. In fact, I have found my Russian panties to be quite comfortable! wink.gif
We headed back to the airport to pick up another of our group, Tazuka, an ethnographer from Japan, and to check on the hopeful arrival of any luggage. We found Tazuka easily enough, but no luggage.
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