Monday, June 25, 2007

Middle class model of life

In general economy is not one of my big interests but there is one particular difference which I have noticed between Denmark and Ukraine. I have noticed that the prices of apartments here are very low, also for Ukraine. Usually things here cost about half of what it costs in Denmark, but the apartments are maybe less than one fifth of the price. However many Ukrainians find these prices completely insane. I heard about one guy at the office who pays half his salary to live in a place he bought, but that is something very unusual here I think.

What many Ukrainians probably do not know is that in Denmark it is common that a person pays his entire salary to live in a place he bought, that is if he is living with someone as a couple. This is the middle class model of living, where you make this one big investment and spend the rest of your life slaving to pay it off. In fact I think this may be one of the main 'pillars' of an economy like the Danish, all these people making investments must give the economy some kind of big potential.

If Ukraine is to have a big middle class as the Danish I think they must learn this model of living. But of course the government will then also have to provide the people some kind of social security. As some people at the office told me they are already very dependent on keeping they current jobs.

Orthodox christians

The religion of Ukraine as well as Armenia is 'Orthodox Christianity'. I already told about the Easter ceremony, in Armenia I got to learn some more about the history and rituals.

Armenia was actually the first country in the world (300 A.D.) to adopt Christianity as a state religion. I think this church - 'Etchmiadzin' - was somehow based on one very early church.

This is inside a church in a big church complex in the mountains and this church they dug out of the mountain from a hole in the top and down.

This is a pagan temple. What is often not mentioned are the ruins to the right, they are from a christian temple which was built after and which was made a bit taller than the pagan temple. Both collapsed during an earthquake but the christian church was not rebuilt because of the rude spirit in which it was designed, christian or not.

But what is more interesting is that I saw a dead person. Near to the place where I was staying in Yerevan an old woman had died. All her friends and family, maybe 60-70 persons, had gathered in front of the apartment. Then they came out with her in an an open coffin. That was kind of creepy. But it was also beautiful because they formed a long procession with her coffin in the middle. Children in the front were carrying her portrait and some big flower decorations, and in the back some musicians were playing quiet music on 'duduk', a traditional Armenian instrument. That was actually the first time I heard a duduk, it is a very nice wooden wind instrument, kind of nasal sounding but very expressive. I was told that the ritual is used every time someone dies, but I am pretty sure they don't use the ritual in Ukraine. Actually I think in general Ukrainians must be less religious, this can also be seen in how the Ukrainian girls dress.

Coca Cola land

There is no Disney Land in Armenia but there is something which resembles a 'Coca Cola Land'.

Using a lot of Coca Cola merchandise they did a good job of making this old amusement park less charming.

All the kiosks had Coca Cola fridges and The Coca Cola Company seem to have made a very efficient job of ensuring that the fridges only contain their products. Actually it is like that in all of Yerevan, the city is practically flooded with Coca Cola. It is quite sad because soon you will probably not be able to get funny stuff like the tarragon soda. Kyryl told me that they also used to have tarragon sodas in Kharkov.

This commercial is actually quite nice. They must have had a lot of fun decorating that old Soviet Ferris wheel with the symbols of capitalism.

Another hand painted Coca Cola commercial. I am pretty sure that the Coca Cola Company did not pay for having that commercial. I guess like there are people in western countries who have romantic ideas about the monsters of communism there are people who have warm thoughts about the monsters of capitalism.

They did not bother to maintain this Coca Cola commercial. Maybe they eventually had enough Coca Cola.

Yerevan houses

When you are a tourist somewhere you always get to study a lot of buildings, I also did that in Yerevan.

This building was very near the city center. I don't think I ever saw buildings this trashed in Kharkov.

The center was one big construction area. When standing on the balcony on top of a tall building like the national gallery the sounds from construction work was even louder than the traffic.

More new apartments which no Armenian can afford to buy, but in all the tourist brochures there were ads telling capitalist pigs like me to buy an apartment.

It looks like they just stopped working on this building but some people must have prepaid an apartment and had to move in.

This is kind of a slum area also very near the city centre. There was actually a lot of life in these streets. There were some kids cutting some wood and I tried talking with a man who was watching them. He told me that one kid was Japanese and another aboriginal. I guess he was joking but the one kid actually had an aboriginal style tattoo, though the symbol itself was christian they said.

The same slum area. I know it is the stupidest kind of romanticism but sometimes I think I would be nice to live in a place like that. There is something very human about it. It was not the product of some architects twisted idealism, those people built their own houses based on their own needs and creativity.

Ukraine vs. Armenia

When I had a week off from work I decided to go to Armenia, the capital of which is Yerevan. I originally intended to go to Russia but I was turned off by the uncertainty of some strange and time consuming visa procedures, for example there is a rule about getting a special 'voucher' which proves nothing as it can be bought at a tourist agency by anyone with 70 dollars. Then I thought Armenia might be more interesting anyway because I knew absolutely nothing about the country.

Kharkov and Yerevan both being similar sized cities - 1.2/1.5 million people - in former Soviet republics there are a lot of similarities. There is the metro for which I think all Soviet cities with more than 1 million people were entitled. There are the market buildings, stadiums and amusement parks, and there are some impressive university buildings and some not-so-impressive suburban residential buildings. I think they also have a bit of the same anti social behaviour as seen when people should be making way for each other or holding a queue instead of just forcing ahead, or when they should be taking care of common facilities or the elderly people who are now begging everywhere in the streets.

What is different between the cities, I think, is the more 'southern' feel of Yerevan. The people of Yerevan are more dark-colored and pretty and they smile a lot more. They walk very slowly in the streets or they sit in one of the city's thousand park cafes, and some of the old people are playing board games together. I think they may also be a bit more positive and proud about their own country. I met a Canadian girl who lived four years in Armenia as a child and who was visiting Yerevan for the fourth time. When she was showing me around she repeatedly used the word 'we' when she was talking about Armenians. Then I met an American girl who was born and lived for 10 years in Odessa (Ukraine), but when someone asked she was very quick to tell that she had 'lived all here life' in US.

If the Armenians to me seem more aware of their culture and history than Ukrainians it may be because Kharkov is in the Russian speaking part of Ukraine. Anyway it was also striking to me how aware Armenians are about their genocide compared to how many times I have heard about the Ukrainian genocide from Ukrainians - zero times exactly. But I would hear about the Armenian genocide many times when I went on a guided tour, when reading a magazine or listening to the lyrics of music, or when just talking to someone the subject would come up.

This is the airport in Kharkov. When I was waiting for my flight I met a very kind policeman who showed me his little office. He told me about a Ukrainian tradition where you give policemen gifts in the form of money. I told him that in Denmark we don't use that tradition.

The airport in Yerevan is more fancy (or at least more modern) than the ones in both Kharkov and Kiev. Getting a visa to Armenia was also a very modern procedure, I filled in an online form and the next day I received my 'electronic visa' by email. In that airport they also have a more efficient way of extorting people. When I was leaving they told me that I had to pay some extra special 'exit tax', or they could not check me in. The woman was not asking nicely like the police man in Kharkov she just said 'sorry, there is nothing I can do'.

The airport of Yerevan is just a facade, true Soviet style. The suburbs of Yerevan looked as poor - or maybe even poorer - than some places in Ukraine.

The buses of Armenia are just as uncomfortable as in Ukraine. One difference though is that in Yerevan you pay the driver after leaving the bus and not while he is driving the bus with his other hand/eye. A bit more clever I think.

The drivers in Yerevan are maybe even more crazy than in Kharkov, as a pedestrian you are completely outlawed. It makes no difference if you are crossing a red or a green light, except when it is red the driver might not honk the horn to let you know when to jump for your life. The car smoke in Yerevan is also really bad. I thought I had gotten used to smelly old cars in Kharkov but after two days in Yerevan my throat felt like sand paper.

In the Armenian cuisine they have a repertoire of herbs which is quite larger than the Kharkovian 'parsley and dill'. I was wondering if anise was the popular spice that they often use but when I had this soda I realized what it was, this tarragon soda was actually very good. What was not so good is the drink they call 'Tan', it is sort of like a Camembert flavoured soda. About the Armenian food itself I was quite impressed, in several restaurants I had food which was both perfectly prepared and perfectly served. As I have told, good service in Kharkov is quite rare and even though they have some good food, the more sophisticated stuff I had in Yerevan simply does not exist in Kharkov.

Armenian sofas are less colorful than in Kharkov.

Some Armenians definitely have an aesthetic sense.

In Yerevan I don't think I saw any Lenin or Stalin statues at all. I only saw statues like this, all of them some kinds of caricatures. I don't know if they have removed Soviet statues but I know that they renamed their 'Lenina Avenue' after the guy who invented the Armenian alphabet. In Kharkov 'Lenina Avenue' is still called that, and they still have some old Lenin statues.

Trashed old Ferris wheel. I saw several wheels in this same design, in Kharkov also, I guess they all came from some big Soviet factory producing happy fun for the people. The wheels must be hard to disassemble because they always just put them out in the country side like this.

Abandoned Soviet swimming pool. I guess this is true modernism, they thought one model would fit all environments. As for much of the suburban residential constructions I know it did not match the Armenian earthquake of 1988. As for this swimming pool it must have been a problem with Armenia's shortage of water.

This kind of nature I never saw in Ukraine, but of course I also have not been to the mountainous western part of Ukraine yet.

The Armenian dachas look different than in Ukraine. This is a dacha area near lake Sevan.

Jeppe told me that in Ukraine they will not say 'good bye' when someone goes away from the country, they will say 'congratulations'. In Yerevan they have a project where they are building big houses for Armenians who are returning home. I also saw a T-shirt which I guess also was made for foreign Armenians (or some crazy non-Armenians), it said '100% ARMENIAN'.

Maybe Armenia is a bit more 'outward minded' than Ukraine. I saw similar European certificates other places also, and I read that one of the squares in Yerevan had recently been renamed as 'France Square'. I think USA are also quite involved in developing the country, I know they have some long running program for developing the Armenian tourism industry. I read that Armenia is actually the most 'economically free' CIS country meaning that they have rules for business and investment which are open and clear enough to make it easy for foreign ventures to operate in the country. I guess this is one more example that Armenians have a better concept of service. You may wonder which of the countries to bet on - Ukraine vs. Armenia - when considering which will develop faster, they do seem to have some different odds.

Semen's birthday

When it was Semen's birthday we went to his family's 'dacha' for the weekend.

This is the dacha, Sunday morning, the day after our first shashlik. I remember we talked about a recent gay parade in Moscow which was ruined by some people. I am a bit surprised that gay people also are not very popular with Ukrainians. Even Semen think that they were not born that way, that they were just badly influenced. But of course he could be right, my 'knowledge' about the subject is also just the dogmas of my culture.

We had cake right after midnight and it was also good for breakfast.

Preparing another round of shashlik. Semen has a special technique for cutting the wood. The axe was one of his presents. One of my presents for him was some wine from Crimea. We drank it after the shashlik and made toasts like they always do here, I also tried saying some frank words for Semen.

For the shashlik they had made a special marinade from onion, sour cream, mayonnaise and some spices.

Girls making salad.

No birthday without some rounds of charades. I gave Semen the word 'ambiguity' which was very hard. Next time I will give him 'membership provider'.

Going to the beach.

Going home. Around the dacha area there were a lot of people working in small fields like this. For many of these people it is actually their main source of income.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Basement jam

These are some pictures from a place where I went jamming with Kyryl. Loscha was also going to come but when his company got a big order of metal doors he was too busy.

It was in this basement and the air was very strange, I guess we were breathing a lot of Radon.

A lot of pipes and a big tank where some water was running into.

The room with the instruments. Pretty good gear actually.

We were there for three hours and at one point we wanted to get up to have some fresh air but it turned out the owner had locked the door from the outside. Actually we had prepaid for using the place but I guess he also did not trust us not to steal his gear.