For my last journal from Russia, I thought that I would summarize a bit of my experiences and observations of living in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for a week at each end of the expedition.
In general, shopping is more tedious in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk than in the United States. One reason has to do with transportation (see below), the other with the way that stores are organized here.
First, in all of the stores, things are behind the counters and you must ask the clerk for them. This makes shopping more difficult when you don’t speak very much Russian…BUT generally the things that are available for purchase are displayed under the glass or in the window, with their price, so you can easily point to them. And at every store they have a calculator to show you the total in case you don’t understand the numbers…and they are very honest about giving us change when we don’t understand and give them too much.
Second, there are several types of places to buy things, but it is rather unpredictable (at least from our perspective) what you will find at each place.
There is the magazin – which is sort of like the corner convenience store. It will have things like milk, yogurt, cheese, kielbasa, canned goods, some fruits and vegetables, etc. and there are LOTS of them around. There is one that is kitty-corner from our apartment, across the playground – that is in the ground floor corner of another apartment building – and three more about 100 meters away near the bus stop.
The inside of the magazin or corner store near our apartment in Novo Alexandrovsk. All of the items for sale are behind the counter and you must ask the clerk for the things that you want. "Mozhna eta” – roughly, "May I have that” is a very useful phrase in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk!*
There are the "regular” stores in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. However, each store is very specialized and apparently a bit random. There are separate stores for shoes, for socks, for medications, for clothing for women, for men and for children. There are separate stores for electrical hardware, construction tools, electrical tools, hand tools, power tools, fasteners (like screws and bolts), etc. There are separate stores for linoleum and rugs, gifts, stationery, books, and kitchenware. Each store has signs outside, but generally the windows are non-existent, very small or even have security grating over them. So interpreting what is in each store from the outside if rather difficult.
Lastly, there is the "bazaar”, which in some ways is more predictable and in many ways less so. The bazaar is a combination of small independent stores that are in kiosks or small glass-walled rooms, a farmer’s market and a swap meet. Again, each store is independent, but often there is a lot of the same thing at each one. There are separate stores with canned goods, tea and coffee, paper goods, toiletries, fresh and dried fish or meat, cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, pet food, baby food, candy, etc. We often know that it is probably possible to get a certain item, say toilet paper or a cooking pot for the apartment, at the bazaar, but locating the store that has it might take some time because each store has something a little bit different. In addition, there are many "transitory” salespeople that set up a table or box with their homemade or handpicked items for sale, such as containers of berries, wool socks, fresh flowers or even meat pies.
The inside of one of the larger bazaars in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Each individual kiosk sells a different, specific type of item such as candy and cookies, meats and cheeses, canned goods, toiletries, etc.
Some of the more permanent fresh fruit and vegetable stands outside the bazaar in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
Crowds of people walking along Lenin Prospect on a Sunday afternoon in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Along the sidewalk you can see where the "babushkas” have set up boxes with fruit, flowers or other produce to sell.
All of this makes the cooking of our meals somewhat challenging at the apartment. It is easy to get muesli, yogurt, milk, cereal, etc for breakfast, bread, kielbasa, butter, etc for lunch, but having something more "elaborate” for dinner can be an adventure in shopping and cooking. We have managed, however, to make several delicious sauce and noodle dishes, borscht, chicken fajitas of a sort, green salads with homemade dressing and an egg, ham and potato frittata.
In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk there are lots of personal vehicles – most of which are imported from Japan and have the driver’s seat on the right side, opposite from the United States. However, people still drive on the right side of the road, so when you look at a car, at first, it might appear that no one is driving it, because you look on the "wrong” side for the driver!
Many people, however, including us, take advantage of the bus system to get around. We take the number 10 bus from Novo Alexandrovsk into Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk each day. It costs 10 rubles or about 40 cents and takes about 20-30 minutes. The bus that we take is a regular sized bus, but some of the bus routes use large mini-vans, instead. When we get on the bus, we pay the conductora, who has her own seat and walks through the bus after each stop to collect the fares and give you your ticket/receipt. Most of the time when we ride the bus, it is standing room only (there are typically only about 10 seats total along the sides) and it is often VERY crowded.
Bre MacInnes looks out the window as she rides the crowded Number 10 bus into Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for another day of work at the Sakhalin Regional Museum.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Etnier)
Matt Walsh and I ride the bus into Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. I have been fortunate enough to sit in an available seat for part of the ride. (Photo courtesy of Mike Etnier)
Architecture & Reminders of Soviet Era
The final observation that I would like to share in this post is a bit of the architecture around town, including the reminders of Soviet times. The buildings tend to look dilapidated and run down on the outside, by American standards, at least. They might remind one of housing projects or condemned areas in a large American city, even. But they are anything but that. Rather, they are often surrounded by lovely flower gardens and the inside rooms are nicely furnished, decorated and comfortable. There are areas for children to play, such as the swings and other structures in the playground outside of our apartment building. And the insides of stores, etc. in town are clean and well-kept. The sidewalks in town are swept regularly and the garbage is picked up daily.
Around town you will see many memorials, statues and murals, some that are remnants from the Soviet era. In the middle of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, for example, there is a statue of Lenin in a large square with a park behind it. Of course, as a tribute to the changes happening in Russia, there are also two large, digital screens with continuous commercials flanking it on both sides!
The statue of Vladimir Lenin that stands in the main square in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk at the intersection of Lenin and Communist Prospects. On both sides of this statue are large "jumbotron”-type screens with continuous commercials. (Photo courtesy of Shelby Anderson)
A typical street in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
An example of the many murals that you would see around town in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk that might date back to the Soviet era in Russia. This one is on the side of an apartment building and depicts the Vostok-5 and -6 capsule launches, which occurred during the "Space Race” between the United States and USSR in the late 1960s. (Photo courtesy of Mike Etnier)
I know that these two weeks have only given me a small, limited glimpse of life in this part of Russia. Many people around our apartment complex know that we are "The Americans” staying here temporarily and especially the children love to say "Hello” when we are walking by. The clerks at the magazin across the way are very patient with our attempts to purchase food every day – I wonder if they notice that we are getting "better” at it….
It has been a brief, busy, and enjoyable stay.
Tomorrow, we begin our 40 hour trek back to the United States.