Bad Music Turned Loud

Having lived in a few student houses and more recently a couple of Russian apartments, I have noticed that the following relationship holds true:

The volume of the music being played by a neighbour is inversely proportional to the quality of the music. 

The same probably applies to people in cars. 

I spent a summer living with a student who liked to play his music stupidly loud through a monster set of speakers.  All you could hear was thumping bass, but the entire audio range of the music itself was utter shite.  Another neighbour in a student hall of residence used to do the same thing, the purpose for which could only have been the equivalent of a child leaping up and down in the company of adults shouting “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!”

I am convinced that those who play music stupidly loud in apartments or houses are those who fail to get positive attention by the normal method of not being a complete prick.  Or they are simply retarded.  In the case of my neighbours in the apartment above where I currently live, I am certain it’s the latter.  They turn their music up most of the day to the point that the speakers distort.  And true to the relationship described above, the music is shockingly bad: Russian teenie-pop and cheesy crooners from fifteen years ago.  They have a small child, whose crying is often drowned out by the music, that I am guessing is the thickest, most illiterate brat in his class in both reading and speaking.  As for listening, I’d be surprised if he could hear his own thoughts.  I’ve not heard about any psycopathic serial killers originating from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk before, but there is always a first and this kid is a prime candidate.  Hopefully he’ll start with his parents, before turning the axe on the stereo.

A Return to Nizhnekamsk?

Most people, even those who follow Russian affairs closely, will have understandably missed this story:

ОАО “Tatneft” has selected a contractor to build the new Nizhnekamsk Refinery worth $5 billion. ОАО “Tatneft” signed the contract with the US company Fluor Daniel Overseas, Inc. Construction of the refinery with crude processing capacity of 7 million tons annually will be completed in 2009.

It came to my attention a week or so back when one of the Fluor directors told me about it.  When an engineering company like Fluor wins a contract like this, many other companies – my own included – take a keen interest in the hope of securing part of the workscope.

Readers who have been following my writings since early 2004 will recall that my first trip to Russia – and the one which started off this entire fascination with the place and its people – was an ill-prepared journey to Moscow and then Nizhnekamsk, which I wrote about extensively at the time.  Now the name Nizhnekamsk is being murmured around the corridors of engineering and service companies, I have found myself in the unique position of being the only person on Sakhalin who has any idea where it is, let alone having been there.  I can therefore advise reasonably well on what to expect should anybody pay a visit to the place, which they surely will.  Or rather, I can advise on what not to expect, stuff like a decent hotel, a working cashpoint, a taxi with working seatbelts, and a straight militiaman.

Furthermore, it is looking increasingly likely that I will have to take a trip there myself in the near future, which if it takes place will surely rank as one of the most bizarre coincidences I will encounter in my life.  If I do go back, I will have a barrel of laughs taking pictures and writing about my second trip there with respect to the first.

Photos from Istanbul

Right, I’ve been back from Istanbul for ages now, but a combination of laziness and business has prevented me from posting anything.  Lame on my part, I know.

Anyway, on the first free day I had I went to visit the Hagia Sophia, originally a church, then a mosque, now a museum, which is arguably Istanbul’s most famous historical building.  As the photos show, it was impressive inside and well worth visiting (although I should add that for all the hype about its interior, it wasn’t a patch on St. Petersburg’s St. Isaac’s cathedral, not that I am comparing like with like here).

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Directly opposite the Hagia Sophia was the Blue Mosque, which I only saw from the outside.

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

My hotel had a great view of the Bosphorus, which if you are into watching ships is a good place to sit and observe the day’s marine traffic.  The bridge which links Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus is shown below.

Bridge over the Bosphorus, Istanbul

There were a lot of mosques in prominent locations in the city, of far more impressive and tasteful appearance than anything I saw in the Middle East.

Cityscape, Istanbul

Mosque, Istanbul

Mosque, Istanbul

Below is the entrance to the Grand Bazaar, supposedly the world’s largest covered bazaar.  I had visited this briefly on my first day in Istanbul, intending to go back later.  However, I got caught up in the Eid holidays which mark the end of Ramadan, and when I got to the Grand Bazaar I found it closed, as the picture below shows.  Two thousand years of trading, and when I’m there it’s closed!

Entrance to the Grand Bazaar

I have included the picture of an extremely crowded Terminal 1 of Moscow’s Sheremotyevo airport because I think it is representative of certain aspects of Russian travel.  There is a huge crowd, everyone is delayed and irritable, there is nothing to do but drink, which most people are doing, an officer of some sort stands about in full uniform, and some Russians are sat with a random object on their table, in this case a trophy.

Terminal 1, Sheremetevo Airport, Moscow

It had snowed in Moscow, and my flight back to Sakhalin was delayed by 5 hours.  To pass the time, I did what most other people were doing, and bought a bottle of Absolut vodka and drank half of it in a few hours.  I can’t remember much about getting on the plane, and I slept for 7 hours of the 9 hour flight, waking up somewhere over Khabarovsk.  As a way of coping with Moscow airport delays and lengthy flights, I can highly recommend it.


I’m following in the footsteps of another, sadly long silent, blogger* by announcing that I am now in Istanbul when everyone expects me to be in the Russian Far East.  I’m here for a couple of days business trip, but with the flight schedule in and out of Sakhalin I’ll be here a week, giving me a few days to see the city.  I’ve taken a camera with me, I’ll put some pictures up at some point, and maybe even write something.

*By the way, whatever happened to Patrick?  I still get nostalgic for the days when he was wandering Siberia and I was planning my first trip to Tatarstan.

The Last of the Summer Whine

Nothing changes in Russia, or so it seems.  But when change does occur, it happens quickly.  Three weeks ago, the temperature in the mornings on the way to work was about 12 or 13 degrees Celcius.  Two weeks ago it was about 8 or 9.  Last week it was 4 or 5.  This week it is between 1 and 3 degrees when I start my car in the morning.  The trees, which two weeks ago were a deep, dark green have started changing to all manner or reds, yellows, and oranges.  The trees, like the people, know what is coming, and are powerless to stop it.  The summer is definitely over, autumn is well established, and winter is on its way.

I have now been in Sakhalin for over a year, and I can enter the ranks of those who bore newcomers to death with tales beginning “Last winter…” and “When I first arrived…”.  Anyway, ahem, when I first arrived it was autumn and we had to wait until early November before the authorities switched on the district heating that everyone relies upon to keep warm.  This year, the authorities have excelled themselves and on 1st October the heating came on across the whole town.  What’s more, the power cuts and water shut-offs which plagued us so much last autumn have barely occurred.  Everyone is thinking it, some are whispering it, but nobody dares say out it loud lest they tempt fate, but: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is getting modern!!  The authorities are getting their act together!!  Not so drainage wise.  Last week we had a few days of torrential rain, and the streets filled with puddles upon which Sakhalin Energy’s environmental team carried out feasibility studies to examine the option of relocating pacific grey whales distressed by their pipelines in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Pausing for a second, I seem to have been rambling somewhat.  Where was I?  That’s right, the approaching winter.  It is noticeably colder this autumn than last, and everyone has become an amateur meteorologist by confidentally predicting that this winter will be a harsh one.  I’m saying the same thing, but really I haven’t got a clue.  All I know is that I now see everyone wearing increasingly heavy jackets on the streets in the mornings and evenings (midday is still warmed by a very bright sun), and I am glad our heating is on.