New me in a megapolis, or what I learnt about Moscow (and myself) in the past three months.

The New Year, as I have mentioned before, doesn’t in fact bring anything new for me. It is also probably the worst time in the year to make resolutions, the period when the amount of unused gym memberships skyrockets, as everyone deceives themselves yet again that they have some strong will and perseverance.  At the same time it is a good moment for summaries of all sorts, the only point in the year when the immediate surroundings seem to be more forgiving of the inherent tendency to overanalyse life. The past three months were very important to me — and very interesting indeed. I have learnt a lot about Moscow, about Russia, about Russians and about myself. Still carried by the wave of New Year’s reflexive mood, I decided to share all that with the Readers.

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The Red Square. This is where I go to feel that I really am in Moscow.

First of all, Moscow is huge. I do realise that this is the most obvious piece of information which you could possibly receive; however, a purely logical understanding of that fact is one thing, a first-hand experience of it — completely another. I was being painfully reminded about the size of Moscow every single morning over the past three months, trying to squeeze in a metro carriage in a rush hour. Here I must also add that life was spoiling me so far when it comes to the morning commute: until now I have never lived further than 20 minutes away from the place where I needed to be in the morning (and this is quite a generous estimation anyway, most of the times the distance was even smaller). In Moscow reaching any destination takes at least an hour (and, for Moscow standards, I don’t live too far from the city centre!). Moving to a megapolis turned out to be quite a shocking experience for me – just as I expected it to be, but what does that change?

The distances in Moscow take the logistics of life to a whole new level. In the good old days the only trip that required using three different means of transport, taking into account a delay of all of them, a lack of a pedestrian crossing, a traffic jam and a passport control was a trip to the airport. Now this is what going anywhere looks like. What is even worse, this is what the commute to all my classes looks like — and every day I have at least four of them. I am still not used to that. It is very likely that the commute stress will grant me gastric ulcers or a severe neurosis. The distances also leave very little space for spontaneity. ‘I happen to find myself with an hour off, let’s go and get some coffee!’ is an offer you will not hear in Moscow. Here people say ‘Listen, in a week — that is, if my class is not moved – I will maybe have three free hours next to Sukharievskaya, maybe you can find  a moment to meet me somewhere there — that is, if your class is not moved either?’ I miss the concentration of things in Edinburgh.

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Christmas lights on Nikolskaya.

Second of all, Moscow never sleeps  and you can find just about anything here— or so they say (one Mexican told me that there is no better place in the world for salsa dancing!) Maybe there is everything in Moscow indeed, but it seems to be well hidden from me. I know exactly where to find a Louis Vuitton boutique or where to buy cosmetics worth three my salaries, but I don’t know where to look for a hairdryer, a corkscrew or a face cream that would fit within my budget. It’s the same with nice, cosy cafes — they need to be somewhere there, hidden in some tiny streets, leaving only the snobbish restaurants and impersonal coffee factories out there in the open.

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Samovars powered by real coal. I will buy one of these before I leave

Third of all, in no other place in the world have I felt so much like an ant (not even in Beijing: there I was a clumsy beetle paying a visit). The ant comparison might not be doing the job well, but no other appropriate insect comes to my mind: the ants cooperate, and there is an order to their apparently chaotic movements.  In Moscow, especially in the metro in rush hours, there is no cooperation. There are no set tracts. Everyones is going in their own direction and at their own (usually super fast) speed. Only strong knees and elbows can help you. Survival of the fittest. In most of other places in the world, if you keep walking forwards with enough confidence, the crowd disperses for a second, letting you pass. In Moscow such a confidence only leads to head-on collisions. It’s a city in a constant rush; it’s better not to stop here, otherwise you might be trampled. This rule holds in every imaginable realm of life: metro,  work, relationships…

Due to this constant rush in Moscow everyone accepts the good-enough, the provisional.  ‘It can always be worse’ is the life motto, so it is wiser to accept the bad which one already has than to change to something even worse while attempting to achieve the better.

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British and Soviet war propaganda at the flee market in Izmaylovo.

There is certain melancholy imprinted in the Russian language, Russian nature and finally the architectural construction of Moscow. Russia is a country of controlled sadness. When asked ‘How are you?’ Russians never reply ‘Well!’ or ‘Not too bad!’. They always say ‘Everything’s normal’. I was desperately trying to find out why. The best explanation I have heard was from a good friend of mine, a Russian dreaming about moving to Korea. ‘It’s because of bad luck. Once you admit that everything is going well your luck can abandon you and everything might start going much worse’.

And what did Moscow teach me about myself? First of all, I am capable of making serious businessmen throw around my giraffe-shaped pencil case and stand up for no reason (and that means I can do everything!). Second of all, I like living alone. I’m not bored by my own company. Third of all, I’m discovering once again that you cannot run away from yourself. I don’t know how much further will I need to go to finally realise that. Finally, I did exactly what I wanted to do — moved to a country with a worthless currency and got a job as a „native” English teacher with a Polish passport — and it turned out just fine. Pretty good, actually. That means — I can do it!

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Nothing can surprise me any more.

Moscow is a place where it is better not to be happy out of superstition and it is better not to stop in order not to reach the wrong conclusions. I, out of my innate tendency not to go with the flow, have chosen it to be the place for the life-stop and space to make decisions, and it was a right choice. Moscow is huge, overwhelming and unpleasant, but it is also interesting, intriguing and weird. This is why I’m staying for a little while longer. Stay tuned!

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Ice statues of Minin and Pozharsky on the Victory Square.

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