Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Weekend in Kiev

I went to Kiev for the weekend to pick up my girlfriend Anna who will stay with me for two weeks. I did not like Kiev as much as Kharkov because people there were not as pleasant. In Kiev I could feel how it is to be in a place were there is a big difference between rich and poor. Often people would try to 'cheat' us and three times we were followed through the streets by some very insistent beggars who would tell us strange stories.

On the train, from the window. Many small villages with no paving on the roads. I thought they looked amazing and one day I would like to make a trip to one of them.

This is the main street in Kiev and Anna is standing in the middle of it. On weekends they close that street for cars. That is a good idea because like most other streets in Kiev it is very broad and often when you need to cross a street you have to go underground. Going underground though could also be a surprising experience, occasionally we would run into a guy with a guitar and some kids and some flower-selling ladies having a party.

A building. Chandeliers in plastic cages. More married people outside in the cold. Behind that building is a similar building which is the 'water information center'. The center apparently is sponsored by the Danish Government Institute of Something and you have to pay 10 grivnas to get your water information.

Tourist stuff.

International art in Kiev. We saw this exact same piece in Newcastle some months ago. It shows some famous places in Newcastle.

We had breakfast at this theme restaurant with servants dressed in traditional Ukrainian clothes. I would think mostly tourists would go to a place like this but many locals also seemed to enjoy it. I can understand why because the food was excellent and cheap.

Tuborg 'own' this metro station.

One typical market.

Luckily we got lost and ended up in this place. It was a quite big part of the city where there were no people living yet but they were restoring all the building in this magnificent old Ukrainian style.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's day

Yesterday I went through the metro station to get some cakes. There are usually a lot of people waiting around for eachother at the entrances. However, yesterday there were really a lot of people. I did not know what was going on until I saw that all the guys had roses in their hands and there were people selling heart shaped ballons. Ukrainians apparently are very romantic people. Or­ they are very susceptible to American marketing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Streets of Kharkov

Last Sunday I was making a long walk around the city.

I think I may have gone to some places where no westerner has ever gone before.

The river, people fishing.

I wonder what the creative people were thinking.


One day when we came back from lunch there was a blackout. This happens sometimes in Ukraine.

This was actually when we were still in the old office.

Analog gaming.

My apartment

Even though I had a lot of trouble getting a place to stay it was worth it because I found an excellent apartment in the middle of Kharkov. It is very unusual because it has western decorations and some facilities not normally seen here. I have to pay 1200$ a month everything included but it is a lot better than some apartments for which they would charge 1000. It is also a lot better than something I would be able to afford back in Copenhagen.

When I came to take over the apartment the owner was walking around half naked, making holes and fixing the pipes. I could see that many of his decorations originate from Germany, and his friend who I met one day spoke some German words. That is why I figure that he is a craftsman who went to Germany to work in construction. He may have made a lot of these apartments for German people and thought that he would make one for himself too. And somehow he managed to get the building materials to Ukraine. But I am only guessing, we couldn't really speak together. He was nice though. He gave me a beer and showed me the porn channel.

This is the living room. To the left is the kitchen, through the right door is the bedroom. There is a big T.V. with more than 1400 channels!

Same room from the other end. Through the left door is a closet room, through the right the bath room. There are a lot of light switches, I will never be bored.

This is the bath room. There is heating in the walls and in the thing that I hang my towels on. There is also 'air suction'.

This is a nice kitchen.

The bedroom. Through the doors is the balcony. Notice the heating system. This is one of few buildings where you can regulate the heating yourself. I also have air condition and a broadband Internet connection. Most other places here still use dial up connections.

This is the best part, the view from the balcony. To the left of the picture is the big opera. One evening they had fireworks.

Danish/Ukrainian music evening

Last friday after work we went to Jeppe's place to drink beers and enjoy music. Jeppe played Kim Larsen and other Danish stuff and our colleagues brought instruments to play Russian/Ukrainian songs.

There we all are. Semen came later.

Max and his girlfriend.

Andrey and me.

Now they are singing like crazy and Andrey plays the guitar very energetically. Max' girlfriend is also a developer but she is very lively. Later I played the drum and they told me I was the best.

Alex has a very beautiful voice and he expresses well the pain in some old Russian songs.

Jeppe is explaining that he is very good at everything. They misunderstood and thought he said he was good because he is Danish. But really there is no reason. Though, it could be because his grand father was the King of Denmark. I think many of the Danish kings were insane.

There Semen is and he is enjoying some dried calamari. They love that stuff but is smells kind of bad. In the middle is Era, she is an old friend of Andrey and she is going to be a doctor. Potato is her favorite vegetable.

Some of us ended up at the Alpha Club, dancing for a long time. Every third or fourth song would be a slow song and Era told me that many Ukrainian boys only want to do the slow dances. In the club there were a lot of big security guys and they felt worried for my security when I leaned against a table. In Ukraine clubs like this still use flouroscent light.

Finding an apartment

I was a bit worried if I could find a place to stay where I could feel comfortable. The apartment standards here are different from Denmark. For example there are usually no regulators on the heating system because the heating is distributed equally to everybody. Many apartments are not very well isolated either and a thing like warm water directly from the tap should not be taken for granted. I usually feel cold very easily so that could be a problem. Another sort of luxury problem is that people here have a different sense of aesthetics. No matter how much you pay it may be impossible to find something appealing to a western taste.

Making all the necessary arrangements also was a bit stressing. For one, I was crashing at Jeppes place and I could not do that forever. Communicating with Ukrainian people who do not speak English very well also let to many misunderstandings and unsuccessful phone calls. I ended up writing a lot of mobile text messages instead, I think I must have written about 40 text messages with one of the agencies. I also made a lot of wrong turns until I understood some of the special banking rules concerning credit card limitations, all sorts of different fees and things like that.

The banking stuff would have been a lot easier though if the apartment people did not insist on being paid in Dollars and in cash. Dealing with these people was actually the most stressing part. It did not feel comfortable giving them 1500$ in hand, because I thought they were running a quite untrustworthy business. For one, the reason they want to be paid in cash is that they do not pay taxes. But that is the norm in Ukraine I was told. Though, it is not the norm in Ukraine to demand a deposit, which they did. Another thing was that I would never meet the administrator I was communication with, only some of her people who came to me in the street. I was told it was not possible to meet her and I couldn't find an address an the website either. It also felt a bit strange sometimes when they were showing me an apartment and some people would come home, maybe people who lived there. I was told that one guy was there to fix the bell, but clearly he was not.

I wonder how it works when foreigners like me rent an apartment in Ukraine. The people I was dealing with were not from an agency owning a lot of apartments, but actually from an association of a lot of apartment owners. So I would be paying the rent to one owner of an apartment with some percentages going to the association. I would pay around 1000 to 1500 Dollars which is actually an insane amount of money in Ukraine. I take it that when I rent an apartment from someone I actually drive them out of their homes. But for them it is such good business that they are willing to move away for me. It makes me feel kind of strange that they will feel lucky when I do that to them.

Office trouble

When Christian, the manager from my company was here he complained that our office was too small, so they moved us to a smaller office.

Our new office. Maybe in cubic meters it is bigger, because the ceiling is very high.

In the room right beside the crowded one there is this room with lots of space. Semen and I sit here.

Our office manager is a strange person. Semen and I told him that we would like to sit in the middle of the room and not stare into the wall as we do now. But he told us that we should sit that way because that was 'the way it was designed', and then he left. He also told Jeppe that we could not sit all together in the big room because some people in another team disapproved of that. Jeppe spoke to these people though and they said they did not mind.

Double date + 1

The Sunday after we went out again with one of the bowling girls and her friend. They actually did not speak English very well so it was good that Alex could translate the more difficult communications.

Ukrainians are usually late so Jeppe and I went to this place to have a beer. Then Alex came, he was not as late as the girls. You may notice the Christmas decorations. I don't know what is up with Christmas here but the girls who came later claimed that it was just a normal decoration.

Jeppe and Erina. We are at a pretty good Italian restaurant.

Alex with Erina's friend. She loves everything Italian, even opera.

In the taxi on our way to an ice skating disco.

That night I played the role of fifth wheel/paparazzi.

Skiing and marriages in the forests

After last night's bowling I was still a bit hung over but I was going skiing with Semen and some of his friends.

Semen and his girlfriend. We were going to meet his friends at this big Russian monument for people who died in the second world war. I would have made some more pictures but my new camera apparently does not to work very well in the cold. It was a very Russian monument, large stone thingies and loudspeakers playing music for pathos.

One interesting thing it was to see a sort of marriage parade walking up this path. I have seen something similar in the middle of Kharkov, married people in the park, freezing and drinking champagne. Apparently it is custom for married people to go to these places and have their pictures taken.

Me in the very same place. Underneath the jacket I am wearing two sweaters, a sweatshirt, two shirts, a thermo-shirt and a T-shirt.

Skiing was also fun. I fell only once and I made a small hill inside the forest. This was my first time skiing. If the snow is not going away I will go to some hills which should be near by Kharkov.

The Ukrainian connection

My company cooperates with a Ukrainian company which facilitates the Ukrainian office, my Ukrainian collegues are actually hired with that company. The company is run by Danish people and one day the manager came from Kiev to inspect our office and find a better location that we can move to. When he came to the office he did not say 'hello' or anything and I think my Ukrainian collegues were a bit offended by that. Usually every morning we even shake hands and also in the afternoon when leaving. But he invited Jeppe and me out for dinner.

The manager to the right and another Danish guy working in Kiev for another Danish company. The only thing they talked about was prostitutes, which were all women according to them. Maybe it was meant as a kind of joke.

I do not have more pictures of that night but we went on to a big club which had a casino, a bowling alley and a disco with strippers (most discos have that here I think). Jeppe picked up some girls and after the Danish guys left we all went bowling for four hours, until five in the morning.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lunch time at the office

Every day at lunch time we go out to eat. I know people in Denmark must envy us.

Often we go to this place not far from the office.

Max, Semen, Andrey, Jeppe and Alex. Notice the pizzas. I did not expect to find some of the best pizza in the world in Ukraine, but there it is. Jeppe is having his usual salyanka soup. I don't know exactly what it is but it has some whole olives, sour cream and a slice of lemon in it, and it is good.

After lunch and a snow fight, on the way back to the office. The square is 'pl Svobody' and it is the largest in Europe, or at least so my collegues say.

Going out with my new collegues

The second day I was here Christian took us all to an Indian restaurant which Alex had been recommended.

Max and Semen.

Semen and Andrey. Sometimes the restaurant would start playing loud Indian music and a dancer would make a sort of bollywood movie dance between the tables.

One dancer took Christian to the floor and made him do stuff with a stick. She also hit him in the head.

Jeppe enjoying a warm beer.

Alex and Max.

The office

Coming to the office was not a big shock to me as I had already seen Jeppe's photos. I guess I could have also expected some very thick air and a not so good smell. Felt like I was back at University.

Small room with a low ceiling.

View from the office. To the left of the picture there is a big T.V. screen playing commercials with sound. There are three songs we can hear all day and one of them is a christmas song. They say it has been running since last summer.

It works allright actually. I don't know if we have to drink warm water in the summer though.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Arriving in Kharkov

My very first day in Kharkov was actually two weeks ago. I came here with one of the managers from my company, Christian.

Airport office. I usually never pack more luggage than I can carry myself because every time I trust it with the airline company they blow it. I had to use the same clothes for five days until I got my luggage. Christian was clever to make them buy him a new suit as compensation but we could not find him a single suit that he liked in all of Kharkov.

We got some beers and went to Jeppe's place.

They had a long discussion.

They are talking about suits. Christian knows a lot about that.

Later we cought a Lada cap and went to a place I thought I would never go. The driver played a sort of disco music very loud.