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I AM living the life I always wanted

By Michael Oliver-Semenov
18 April 2013

There is so much to see and do in Krasnoyarsk that when I am asked by a student in an accusatory fashion ‘why did you move here?’ I find myself replying ‘why on Earth do you want to leave?!’

It’s now impossible for me to imagine life without this; without this freedom: freedom to enjoy the city, to enjoy the country, freedom to grow large amounts of healthy crops that will last us till the middle of winter. Picture:Michael Oliver-Semenov

After a short while in my new job I have found myself with Friday off, all of my students had plans for this day, so we squeezed all my classes into a 4 day week. I can’t complain! 

After a brief lay-in I had to go into the city centre for ANOTHER job interview. Language School number 3 looks even more promising. As a native English speaker in Krasnoyarsk with a background in literature, I have discovered in the past 2 weeks that there is no shortage of work; I am going to have to start turning work down! What a difference from my life in Britain.

Before I came to Russia I used to work part time in an art centre as an assistant in the theatre. I wrote a few shows for the stage but I mainly worked collecting tickets and supervising audiences.

The centre also had a bar and café. When the cruel austerity measures were introduced and many people were fired from their jobs, a dish washing job in the art centre café attracted more than 100 applicants: professionals, academics, even those with high medical qualifications.

It was and still is a dire situation. So after I left the job interview today I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time: liberation. Yes. I feel liberated.

I took a walk in one of the parks and the sun was shining, it was about 17 degrees, all the snow had melted and was gone;  I have taken to wearing a very smart spring coat (that I just bought) and my summer shoes. Not only do I have plenty of work, new clothes and money in my pocket but my career as a writer is also flourishing; Siberia has had a wonderful effect on my writing and it’s beginning to pay off: I had 3 acceptance letters this week alone from publishers in the UK and the states.  

Consequently I feel slightly bemused when students or other teachers ask me ‘why have you come to live in Krasnoyarsk’, ‘what do you mean you have no plans to return to the UK?’ ‘Why would someone from Britain choose to live here?!’

All of them are under the false impression that western countries offer a much greater quality of life. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

I feel slightly bemused when students or other teachers ask me ‘why have you come to live in Krasnoyarsk’, ‘what do you mean you have no plans to return to the UK?’ Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

They seem to think people in the UK are healthier and have more options when it comes to work and pleasure. I can’t argue with the fact that streets in Britain are cleaner, repaired faster and have smoother road surfaces, but having these things doesn’t necessarily constitute a better quality of life.

Yes there are imperfections in Russia, the roads almost always have pot holes and the streets are always messy in the spring after the snow has melted and exposed all the litter people threw into the snow over winter; BUT I would argue that people in Russia, working class people, like myself, enjoy a much higher standard of living in Siberia compared to similar people in Britain.

When I lived in Wales I either rented part (not all) of a house in a city, or a rented part of a house in the country.

I couldn’t ever afford to rent both at the same time, so I was either stuck in the country, wishing I could spend more time in the city where they have theatres, cinemas, cafes and so on; or I was stuck in the city wishing I had instant access to trees, mountains and lakes.

In Russia we have both. Summer dacha lifestyle is ingrained in Russian culture. Ok, our dacha isn’t a chalet, it isn’t very big and it doesn’t have a bathroom, but it serves its purpose. Over the next few weeks, as the weather picks up, I will be able to pick and choose where I spend the night.

If there’s a play I want to see I can go and crash at our city apartment after. The following day, if I fancy a beer and a barbeque out in the sticks I can crash at the dacha, which is close enough to the city that it still enables me to get to work on time the following day. I can’t say that I ever had this much choice in Britain: I was either stuck in one place or stuck in another; I could never enjoy my life to the full unless I had shed loads of money. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

If I fancy a beer and a barbeque out in the sticks I can crash at the dacha, which is close enough to the city that it still enables me to get to work on time the following day. I can’t say that I ever had this much choice in Britain: I was either stuck in one place or stuck in another; I could never enjoy my life to the full unless I had shed loads of money. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

In Krasnoyarsk I am able to say that I AM living the life I always wanted: it’s affordable; there are plenty of jobs as far as I can see; there are plenty of cultural attractions and parks to enjoy during the free time.

There is so much to see and do in Krasnoyarsk during every season that when I am asked by a student in an accusatory fashion ‘why did you move here?’ I find myself replying ‘why on Earth do you want to leave?’

Migration is a funny business. One man’s plateau is another man’s hell; likewise, one man’s cramped, economically clapped out western city (with perfect paving stones) is another man’s paradise.

Granted, one of my students has never seen the ocean before (Krasnoyarsk is in the middle of Russia!), so he’s looking forward to his first dip in the sea (technically one doesn’t have to leave Russia for this).

I can perfectly understand his longing to experience the ocean and all it has to offer, there is after all only one seagull in Krasnoyarsk that I know of and it lives in the zoo (no joke). Just imagine how he’s going to feel when he experiences his first smell of the ocean, the first lap of waves over his toes, his first seaside ice-cream being stolen by a seagull. I suppose, as an islander that I took those things for granted.

In less than a month I will be spending all my free time at the dacha. 

We will grow potatoes, kabackoks, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers - I could go on a while.

It’s now impossible for me to imagine life without this; without this freedom: freedom to enjoy the city, to enjoy the country, freedom to grow large amounts of healthy crops that will last us till the middle of winter. I can’t imagine why anybody would want a life without such qualities; but then again, it’s so easy to become complacent, to feel blasé towards the gems of our culture and environment.

When I am sitting on our veranda wondering how my soon-to-be seaside student is doing, maybe, just maybe, he will spare a moment to wonder about me, as he floats across crystal clear waters on his large inflatable rubber duck just off the coast of paradise island, and ask ‘why would anybody leave here?’

Comments (25)

On the sidenote, as I expect more of such basic questions arise, Mao could cover daily routine in his next piece. Costs and availability of water, gas, electricity, transport, medical aid, food, etc. As a Muscovite, I'm interested in those myself, as they're supposed to be way cheaper than we're having them here.
Andy Dean, Moscow
23/04/2013 16:45
3
0
i guess as Mao focuses on his impressions I can fill the gaps for people in comments. Regarding tax, there's a lot of taking for granted in this field.

1) 13% are off everyone's salary.
2) State pensions and state medicare are also collected from the salary but it's oddly considered more of a employer's payment than a deduction.

So in reality the deductions are about 25-30% but since 2) is taken for granted since Soviet times (state owes us pensions and medical care) all the employment issues revolt around 13% tax only. It's the only visible one.

Nobody would ever think of pension and medicare money as something he could have had in cash, so these taxes are psychologically nonexistant for most people and come instead in form of pension fund reports and polyclinic ID cards.

For small businesses there are two options, either 6% off all the income or 15-20-something% off income minus spendings.
Andy Dean, Moscow
23/04/2013 16:38
4
0
I think you are a very lucky man Michael, and wise enough to appreciate your luck. Cheers from Asia!
May , China
23/04/2013 11:14
3
0
Hi Michael,

just to say great luck to you and your family, keep on writing!
Dinara, Kazakhstan/US
21/04/2013 01:02
5
0
Thanks everyone! L, US. paying the tax is not a prob. Obtaining the visa, residence permit, work permit and tax code are !! There are a hundred and one different offices to go to get these ans you need a stamp that validates a stamp that validates a stamp etc. Same in British immigration though. I imagine it's the same everywhere. Tax is 13% for everyone
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
20/04/2013 09:36
6
0
I am following these well written, and most fascinating blogs. . You bring us stories of a hard but exciting life.. You show us the virtues of people they are honest and sincere.. I look forward to the next one. Please send to the cheval website
Aida Birch, Neath; South Wales
20/04/2013 06:19
8
0
Another enjoyable read and incite into Mao's life in Siberia. Life to me sounds wonderful out there , if i did not have so many responsibilities here, i would up sticks and move right now. The only down side for me would be, i do love the ocean But i am sure there are some nice rivers or streams in all that wonderful countryside Mao talks of
Amanda Davies, Neath , South WALES
20/04/2013 02:09
9
0
hi and many thanks for writing this; how harsh is the tax for you and how complicated is it to pay it?
L, US
20/04/2013 00:04
7
0
@Frederik - agree. Its like a window to a completely different life which thanks to your blogs is getting more understandable. Not many people would dare repeating what you've done, but like myself and my friends we are curious to see what's going to happen next in your life, and it must make a good book.
Tim, Germany
19/04/2013 15:14
9
0
Dear Michael,

First off I want to say how I thouroughly enjoy reading about your experiences as an expat in Krasnoyarsk. Ever since I've visited the Republic of Altai, I too am fond of Russia and Siberian lifestyle. Moving over there has been on my mind ever since, but that's just daydreams... Keep on writing and keep feeding those dreams!
Frederik, Belgium
19/04/2013 14:18
10
0
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