MOSCOW: Ismail, 26, was riding a small bicycle in VDNKh, where he helps clean the park and amusement area clean. As VDNKh is big, the bicycle may be used by workers to get around and communicate with one another. Ismail said he grew up in a village in Uzbekistan about 500 kilometers from the capital of Tashkent. He said he has been working in Russia nearly five years. He worked about 18 months in Khabarovsk in the Far East of Russia. He moved to Moscow about three years ago, first cleaning court years and shoving snow off roofs, before joining the park in the spring. Ismail said he has a wife and child and is saving to build a home in his village.
KHABAROVSK: He was working the bar at the Pool Club in Khabarovsk. He introduced himself as "Vladimir...like our President." A colorful character, Vladimir spoke a mile a minute, joking constantly, and all I could understand after 5 minutes was that things were "f@cking awful" following the 1998 Russian default and ruble collapse. Once he slowed down, I learned he started working in bars in the late 1990s, while pursuing a degree in bio-chemistry. Like many Russian science/engineering students of that era, he didn't bother starting a career in science. But it wasn't just for financial reasons. "I understood that this [bartending] was my thing. I wanted to work with people and this was the best club." Vladimir has been serving up drinks at Pool Club for 15 years and knows the city's movers and shakers. "All the privledged youth used to come here. Now they own businesses, restaurants...they have become important people." Vladimir joked that he knows their secrets as well.
KHABAROVSK: Tolik, 21, grabbed the taxi order that had just come across the tablet and picked me up. He said he was a university student and picked up cab orders when convenient. Tolik, who grew up in a small town of about 3,000 people outside Khabarovsk, said he would like to work in a bank. ''It is not a dirty job, you don't have to work with your hands,'' he said. ''You work in a clean office.'' While he says he is lucky to have a car - a gift from his parents - he isn't optimistic about saving up to buy an apartment anytime soon. He says it costs about 15,000 rubles to rent an apartment in Khabarovsk while a good job could pay about 30,000. Then there are everyday living expenses, barely leaving you with any savings. ''It is nearly impossible for me to save up for an apartment and there are many people in my situation,'' Evgeny said. ''If you take out a mortgage, you will probably be paying down way into old age.''
KHABAROVSK: Evgeny and his younger brother were touching up their new bar ‘Loft’ in Khabarovsk early on a February weekday evening. They had just held what they called ‘a pre-opening’ event a few days before, but still needed to do some work before fully opening.
The clean, simple bar had black and white portraits of Cubans on the wall. Small tables and couches were placed in various corners of the bar. Evgeny said his father made some of the bar’s furniture.
Jazz music played in the background. Evgeny says he likes Jazz and Blues and that his favorite musician in this genre is Karl Frierson….
KHABAROVSK: Natasha, dressed in a 'New York' winter hat, was leaving her university with three girlfriends. She said she was studying public service, following in her dad's footsteps and planned on staying in Khabarovsk. I asked what changes she would like to see in her city. "I would really like to see a ferris wheel built," she said. "And that our educational system resembled America's a bit - where you can choose your own subjects; cheerleaders, swimming and beautiful cafeterias." Several people I spoke with in the Far East commented - like Natasha - that there aren't enough recreational or entertainment spots in their cities.
Khabarovsk: Zoya, 23, was with her former dorm roommate at a new, ‘hipster-styled’ bar in Khabarovsk on a recent evening. Zoya grew up in Komsomolskaya, but like many young people from that town, moved to Khabarovsk to study. She worked for the tax inspection upon receiving her bachelor’s degree. Having heard so many terrible stories about the tax agency during my years in banking, I asked her about that job.
Khabarovsk: I passed a kiosk in the center of Khabarovsk offering coffee and donuts and stopped to get a cup of java. Artyom, 25, opened the window to take my order. He had model-like features with pierced ears and tattooed arms. He said he also worked at a bar and is a drummer in a 'turborock' band called Fucknroll. When I asked which western group his music would be closest to, he mentioned Motley Crue and Black River, but added that his group's music is a mix of styles. I asked if his 4 year-old group would try to play in Moscow and St Pete. "We want to conquer the (Russian) Far East first," he said.
Khabarovsk: Nastya, 19, who grew up in a small town near Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East. Nastya's mom divorced shortly after she was born and had to sell cigarettes on the streets in late 90s to pay rent. Her mom, who studied accounting, later got hired to manage the books in a convenience store. In 2000, Nastya's mom took a big risk, borrowing money to buy the convenience store. Her mom's timing couldn't have been better. Russia's economic growth was about to skyrocket over the next decade. Her mom quickly paid back the loan and eventually opened a second store. When Nastya entered university, her mom agreed to give her spending money only in her first year. "It was her principle," Nastya said. "She said she wanted me to be responsible and independent. She said I will thank her in 5-6 years." After a stint working in a cafe, Nastya is now trying to earn money after classes by doing manicures.
Khabarovsk: They said the were on their way to the Amur riverside "to get some fresh air." While it was rather warm for Khabarovsk, not sure it was really time to be wearing sneakers...
Khabarovsk: While many people do seek to leave Khabarovsk, there are those that move here as well. Sisters Eliana (left) and Diana were leaving the Chinese market in Khabarovsk when I met them. Diana, 23, said there parents were born in the Caucasus, met in Khabarovsk, but moved back home after they got married. Diana was born there. But their parents returned some 15 years ago to seek better opportunities. Eliana was later born in Khabarovsk. Diana, who recently finished her degree, said she plans to stay in Khabarovsk and has already started a family of her own. "I really like Khabarovsk - it's a big and beautiful city," said the mother of two. ''As for a job, she is confident she will find one post her studies. "Of course you need to search hard for a good job, but I will find one. I am a very driven person."