Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Problem solved (and other good news)

Some days it seems like expat life (or life in general?) is made up of thousands of tiny inconveniences-think, death by papercuts- and periodic huge leaps forward. Last weekend some of those tiny papercuts healed and we solved two issues that had been hanging overhead for ages. This story is also a claim that alcohol occasionally can solve some problems!

On Friday night, my friend Alex organized a Big Night Out as he's soon heading abroad for the next stop on his adventurous life. He rounded up a total of 8 Ukrainians, 1 Canadian, and 4 Americans to start the night at Mexico House, where the "Mexican" food consists mainly of potatoes. I don't think they even have any beans on their menu, but it's sure a fun place to hang out. By the end of the night the foreign contingent had ventured onward to Club Galaktika, Mafia, and settled at Гигант (Giant), where the dance floor was filled with decidedly un-sober young men from the Caucasus (you know, Georgia, Azerbaijan, all that good stuff). We enjoyed ourselves in this quieter area below, along with a bunch of cops. A brawl sprawled into the room at one point but it wasn't the cops who broke it up, rather a sharp-tongued administrator in a clingy dress! All in all, a really good night out on the town with some really good people.

Not shockingly, the next day brought a massive hangover in which I tossed and turned between the bed and the couch, being spectacularly unproductive for most of the day. When it came time for dinner, I only had one thought: sushi. That's semi-healthy hangover food, right?

Hands down, the best place in Kharkov for sushi is SushiYa, who luckily caters to worn-out partiers by offering free delivery.
SushiYa sushi!

D and I went through the online ordering process and were thrilled to see webmoney as a payment option at the end. Dorky? Yes. But here's why.

You remember that we don't have a bank account so almost everything in our lives gets done in cash. Salary arrives via an envelope of cash or a piece of paper wrapped around some bills. Rent gets handed over in a wad of cash. Grocery money comes right out of the wallet. I haven't used a check or any kind of plastic in 2 years. This is more or less fine, except that when I started working for a translation company in another Ukrainian city, it was hard to figure out how to get paid. I wish Paypal were an option, but they seem to have (or have had?) some issue with Ukraine and no one here uses them. I finally chose webmoney, an online payment system that was completely new for me. Honestly, I wasn't sure I'd ever actually see any money from this job, but a) the work was so piecemeal and b) it's great for my Russian skills, so I've been working with this company for about 6 months now despite that concern.

All this time the payments have slowly been adding up in the webmoney account until they reached $200, which we can all agree is a sizeable little chunk of change. The problem with accessing the money is that we can't transfer it to a US bank account. The only way to use it is to spend it via a webmoney-approved vendor, which we attempted to do but were stymied by what was actually on offer: florists and Russian utility companies, neither of which will do us any good. Until finally, this hangover-induced craving for sushi solved it all! $200 of sushi, coming right up!!! : ) We ordered an awe-inspiring dinner of udon soup, 4 kinds of sushi, and a dessert roll with mango and pineapple and with every bite I remembered all those articles we proofread to earn it. (Btw, the bill wasn't $200, it was more like $30. That means $170 is still left in the sushi fund!)

The second great thing is this:


The first time I heard about grocery delivery I was probably 16 years old and thought it was the silliest thing ever. Seriously, what a luxury. Unless you were elderly or immobilized, why on earth would you need this service?

I take those words back now, because nothing sucks more than carrying milk/juice/water and 10 kg (ahem, that's 22 lb!) bags of kitty litter home by hand in wintertime. Especially in our last apartment, where grocery shopping happened after work on Friday night via 30 minutes of walking and 2 stops on the metro, ugh. I'd heard about people taking taxis to the supermarket but I couldn't convince myself to shell out for that. Now we live near a big grocery store but it's still a bit of a trip: get over there, navigate the crowds with your shopping cart, run around half the store looking for something that's out of stock, try to politely confess you don't know when an old man asks you something about the pears, wait in a long line at the checkout while the cashier looks up the code for a loaf of bread.

Instead, we spent 30 minutes filling our shopping basket on the РОСТ website and voilà, that's it! Two men delivered the groceries right to our front door on Monday (they're closed on Sunday).

I totally, totally recommend this service if you're short on time. Also, it's a great way to practice Russian, as the site is in Russian and so you'll be doing searches and reading dozens of бытовая химия and колбасные изделия labels. Contrary to popular opinion, I think you don't necessarily use a foreign language much in a store; you can just point and grab without needing to read any signs. Plus, you'll get a delightful opportunity to practice your phone skills when they call you up with "Brand XYZ is out of stock, do you want Brand Brezhnev instead?!" and "we don't have any 400 gram containers of peach tvorog, how about 300 grams instead?! Or do you want cherry?!" to which you're like "uhhh... it's okay" and they're like "which?! speak now!" and you're like "ummm... the first choice" because you're not really sure what they're talking about and you just want some food, any food at all, really.

Kit approves (although he was slightly disappointed at not getting his usual kind of kitty litter, the kind with the "secret technology' UFO sticker on it).
As for the cost of getting groceries delivered, here's how it breaks down.
  • up to 500 uah = 70 uah fee (yikes!)
  • 500 - 1,000 uah = 30 uah (this is what we paid, I think it's reasonable)
  • over 1,000 uah = free
updated 3/7/14
  • under 300 uah = 70 uah delivery fee
  • over 300 uah = free

Also, if your groceries weigh over 20 kg and your elevator isn't working, they'll charge you 10 uah per floor. And while you can pay with a credit card, you can also just pay in cash at the door.

One more mini-update:
We now use exclusively bulka.ua. Same variety, same prices, but friendlier staff. Sometimes they even throw in a free notepad. Also, delivery is free after 200 uah. 

In other news...

One more problem may soon be addressed- this one:
They say they're coming at 8 AM tomorrow. The building's leaky hot water pipe has now been turned off for 12 days.

Our Scrabble games have resumed and everyone has been able to enjoy Coffee Life's new fall menu:
Chocolate coconut cake: heartily endorsed by the Kharkov Scrabble club!
The cashier practically had a heart attack when I refused to buy the salad dressing on the side (but they were all mayonnaise-y, eew), warning that the salad would taste terrible. It didn't. But about 5 minutes later, the cashier came over with salt and pepper shakers, a stern look, and a firm "for the salad".

Best of all: tomorrow we're buying tickets for a weekend getaway!!! It'll be the first time we've traveled outside the city this entire year (thanks Al!) since May.


  1. Another delightful post from you country folks, have a lovely weekend :-)

  2. Your problem with the salad reminds me of hilarious scene in Everything is IIluuminated-where the main character has to deal with a grumpy Ukrainian waitress when he has a "off the menu"food request, hope you are able to watch it somtime