Blogging Stuff

Once again, apologies for the interruption in service.  It appears that this blog, which recently saw its 250,000th visitor, has outgrown the hosting company, who I have been with for 10 years.  So I’ve moved to another host, hopefully one a bit more able to deal with the traffic (which is mostly spambots) which my blog attracts.

There might not be much blogging going on here for a while, I am shortly due to depart for Nigeria and here is an awful lot to organise.  However, I will certainly be doing plenty of blogging once I get there.  Apparently, you could run a healthy blog writing solely about the airport at Port Harcourt.  We shall see.

Security Advice

As received from my new employer regarding travel in Nigeria:

In case of danger, stay in your car, ask your driver not to run away and give immediately what you are asked for (have always about 5.000 Naira [$30] with you to give).

Business as Usual in Russia’s Oil and Gas Sector

A series of articles in Upstream Online illustrate well the mentality of those attempting to run Russia’s oil and gas industry.  First up is a report of yet more “tough talk” from Igor Sechin, Russia’s deputy prime minister and chairman of Rosneft.  Unfortunately, “tough talk” – for which read macho posturing and anti-foreign idiocy – is pretty much all we ever get from Sechin, who – not for the first time – could probably do with reading up on how businesses operate in the world outside Russia’s borders (he’s not the only one).

Russian gas giant Gazprom must raise its game by penetrating the swiftly growing markets of Asia after a fall in exports to European Union customers, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said today.

Oh, we’re back to this again.  Every year or so some Russian bigwig says that Russia will start supplying Asia with oil and gas, usually accompanied by a crude threat aimed at Europe.  Firstly, why can’t Russia start supplying Asia anyway regardless of what Europe is doing?  Secondly, why is the chairman of Rosneft telling Gazprom what to do? Continue reading

Blog Died, Resurrected

You may have noticed my blog was offline for a few days, apparently a rogue script almost caused the host server to crash and my provider thought the best way to deal with it was to pull the plug on the whole thing and send me vague emails every couple of days.

Anyway, I’m back online now, and back in Phuket for that matter.  I’ll post some stuff shortly.

How to register yourself in Russia

As I mentioned in my previous post, during this trip to Russia I am staying in the apartment of a friend.  Unlike all previous occasions where I have either spent the first night in a hotel or have been here working, this time around I have to register myself.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the idiocy with which Russia is run, there is a requirement that all visitors register themselves with the local authorities within 4 working days of arrival.  As a public service to all those who might find themselves in a similar situation in Russia in the future, here’s how the registration is done.

1.  Host (the person in whose apartment you are registering) makes a call to his mate in the local passport office to find out what the latest rules are and what the best way of registering is.  Rules in Russia change often, with nobody really having a clue what they are at any given time.
2.  Receive advice from mate in passport office to register at the post office and avoid the local OVIR office like the plague.
3.  Go to post office, join lengthy queue at special counter for registrations, Western Union, and other foreigner-related services.
4.  Wait 15 minutes.
5.  Approach counter, request forms for registration and enquire about other requirements.
6.  Receive information that this post office is too small to deal with non-CIS registrations and you must go to the central post office on Lenin Square.
7.  Receive helpful advice that you will need to go to a bank and pay 200 Roubles ($6) in taxes before you can register at the central post office.
8.  Go to bank, notice they are on a break until 12pm.
9.  Hang about on the street with host looking gormless until 12pm.  Don’t worry, you’ll fit right in.
10.  Go into bank, join queue.
11.  Wait 20 minutes.
12.  Pay 200 Roubles, obtain receipt.
13.  Go to central post office, notice they are on a break until 1pm.
14.  Go to local cafe, order overpriced food and beverage, kill time until central post office opens.
15.  Enter central post office, join lengthy queue at special counter for registrations, Western Union, and other foreigner-related services.
16.  Wait 10 minutes.
17.  Approach counter, request forms for registration and enquire about other requirements.
18.  Receive double-sided A4 form which requires no end of pointless duplicate information and instructions to fill out two such forms.
19.  Hang about waiting for host to fill out form, sitting beside herd of Azeris wearing tracksuits and drinking beer.
20.  Notice that the central post office sells canned food, noodles, hair dye, and bathroom cleaning products.
21.  Wait 20 minutes for forms to be completed by host.
22.  Join queue at special counter for registrations, Western Union, and other foreigner-related services.
23.  Wait 10 minutes.
24.  Hand in forms, be informed that copies of passports (host and visitor), forms, and immigration card are required.  Copying services are not available in the post office. Cans of pilchards and hair-curlers are.
25.  Leave central post office, walk short distance to shop providing photocopying services.
26.  Join lengthy queue at kiosk providing photocopying services.  Note the three or four kiosks not providing photocopying services manned by staff sitting idle.
27.  Wait 15 minutes.
28.  Hand over documents to be photocopied.
29.  Wait 5 minutes.
30.  Receive photocopies, pay 30 roubles.
31.  Return to central post office, join queue at special counter for registrations, Western Union, and other foreigner-related services.
32.  Wait for herd of Azeri men in tracksuits to finish registration and their beers.
33.  Hand over documents and photocopies for clerk to process.
34.  Wait 10 minutes, and slowly understand why long-life foods are available for purchase in a Russian post office.
35.  Receive blank envelope and two somewhat strange and identical blank itemised bills from clerk.
36.  Wait while host writes address on envelope and completes itemised bills, applying signatures where required.
37.  Hand envelope and itemised bills back to clerk.
38.  Wait while clerk applies stamp to twenty three separate pieces of paper, stapling bundles of them together and adding them to a huge pile sitting beside her left elbow.
39.  Receive stack of papers all stamped and stapled indicating registration is complete, and bask in the knowledge that the Russian Federation is that little bit more secure.

Total time = 4 hours.  Still, at least it required fewer steps than buying lightbulbs.

I mentioned this to a local friend of mine, who laughed and guessed that in the UK this probably takes no more than 15 minutes.  He seemed surprised when I told him that there is no such requirement in the UK and that of the 36 countries I have visited in the last 10 years, the only one which requires visitors to register with the local authorities is Russia.

How to Buy Lightbulbs in Russia

I’m back in Sakhalin for two weeks, having finally managed to obtain a visa for $200 thanks to an efficient agent in London and my second passport (Brits are allowed multiple passports).  I’m here purely on holiday to catch up with friends, most of whom will themselves be leaving soon, and to see the place probably for the last time.  I’m staying in an apartment of a friend of mine who is working up in the north of the island, and one thing I noticed when I moved in is that a few of the lightbulbs had blown.  It is impossible to find quality lightbulbs in Sakhalin, the only ones on sale are cheap Chinese or Indonesian junk.  If they do not shower glass over your head when they inevitably blow you are lucky, and it is not uncommon when unscrewing a lightbulb in Sakhalin to find the metal part scorched black with carbon or the glass and metal parts separated altogether.  Anyway, I thought it would be a nice gesture to replace the bulbs, plus reading in gloom hurts my eyes.  However, buying lightbulbs in Russia is, as with so many other things, not quite the same as buying lightbulbs anywhere else.  So if you ever find yourself needing to buy lightbulbs in Russia, here’s how you do it:

1.  Go to a hardware store.
2.  Approach glass counter underneath which four dozen different lightbulbs are arranged in a grid, each with a label underneath.
3.  Wait at counter in the hope of some assistance.
4.  Grow a beard.
5.  Take note of the six or seven staff loafing about nearby doing nothing, all of whom ignore you completely.
6.  Identify the man in charge of lightbulb sales, wait for him to finish serving other customer.  By this time, beard will have grown completely and you may shave and start again.
7.  Greet the man in charge of lightbulbs cheerfully, show him existing, broken lightbulb and ask for 15 new ones exactly like it.
8.  Wait for the man in charge of lightbulbs to write your order on a scrap of paper.
9.  Head for Kiosk No. 3 and wait in line.
10.  Trim beard.
11.  Hand kiosk girl scrap of paper.
12.  Ask kiosk girl to repeat herself, preferably using the type of Russian found in textbooks.
13.  Hand over money, receive change and receipt.
14.  Take receipt to man in charge of lightbulbs.
15.  Wait for him to finish serving other customer.
16.  Collect lightbulbs and slightly torn receipt from man in charge of lightbulbs.
17.  Go home, attempt to install lightbulbs.
18.  Realise man in charge of lightbulbs has given you the ones with a fat screw end rather than thin screw end.
19.  Judge shop to be closing in few minutes, with distance too far to cover in available time.
20.  Watch sunset, attend local nightspot, get hammered, sleep.
21.  Return to hardware store.
22.  Approach glass counter underneath which four dozen different lightbulbs are arranged in a grid, each with a label underneath.
23.  Wait for the man in charge of lightbulbs to finish serving other customer.
24.  Stroke beard, now at chest-length.
25.  Explain problem to man in charge of lightbulbs.
26.  Thank Christ man in charge of lightbulbs remembers you and accepts your receipt.
27.  Watch man in charge of lightbulbs disappear behind some doors.
28.  Wait for man in charge of lightbulbs to return with a form in his hand. Beard.
29.  Watch man in charge of lightbulbs fill out the form, which is in three parts, takes up an entire sheet of A4, and is ludicrously complex.
30.  Provide passport details when asked.  Seriously.
31.  Sign completed form in two places.
32.  Take signed form, slightly torn and now scribbled-on receipt, and random scrap of paper to Kiosk No. 3 and wait in line.
33.  Shave, recommence beard growing.
34.  Hand kiosk girl signed form, slightly torn and now scribbled-on receipt, and random scrap of paper.
35.  Cover ears as kiosk girl bellows for man in charge of lightbulbs to come to her kiosk.
36.  Listen to heated exchange between man in charge of lightbulbs and kiosk girl, the latter being unhappy that the form only contains my passport number instead of all passport details and my address.
37.  Receive receipt from kiosk girl.
38.  Take receipt to man in charge of lightbulbs.
39.  Collect lightbulbs and slightly torn receipt.
40.  Go home, install 8 lightbulbs.
41.  Wait 3 hours.
42.  Replace 2 blown lightbulbs.