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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

this must go


Every week, the city transforms. An old bus stop with thick cracked glass and a tiny metal garbage can that was always on fire is suddenly gone. A gleaming, modern structure is there now. A route map, laser cut brushed steel, a bench that is not lopsided. The old supermarkets are torn down, and shiny new ones replace them in less than a month. In the metro there are new cars that do not rattle, no torn vinyl seats giving up their ancient stuffing.

It is all sheen. A facade.

The chicken sold on styrofoam trays is still old, past its sell-date, sitting in those cases. The same milk, made from powder that claims it is fresh. The parmesan (spelled carefully that way) is palm oil and wood pulp. The bus stop is new, but the trolley bus is ancient  - two great limbs connecting it to the wires that run above everything here. The driver has to get out and reconnect them when they jump away, in the snow, in the rain, in the dark while everyone waits inside.

Shacks and one-car garages that slumped against walls and trees somehow standing for decades are disappearing. Every week, a bare spot of dirt where one stood. They were no danger, and no one complained about them. They were just old. But the city is in the middle of a campaign of bulldozers and papers that say "this must go".


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