I have redefined cool.
We’ve all grimaced at those low-riding custom job cars with the windows down blaring out some god-awful abomination claiming to be music. It’s odd why some people think anyone else gives a **** about whatever form of mind-numbingly inane hip hop beat they find defining, and I swore I would never sink to anything like that low. Well have you never broken a promise?
As I sped down the central artery of the glorious Siberian city of Tyumen at 11pm, I succumbed to this vice. The thumping tunes blared out at full volume (and I mean FULL volume), attracting glances ranging somewhere between disgust and utter bemusement as my companions wound down the window. For the short ride home we were transported to another realm, far removed from our surroundings. If we had closed our eyes, we could almost have been huddled around a log fire with a glass of wine and a contented belly full of turkey and trimings, not rushing home over the dirty ice-ridden streets after a long day’s work surrounded by people who didn’t care much for us at all.
The difference is that whereas suburban white gopniks – chavs to English readers – pathetically attempt to connect to their ‘brothers’ from the East or West coast of a country they generally look upon with contempt, my choons were the distinctly un-rock’n’roll strains of Nat King Cole. Oh yes. Welcome to life on Christmas Day as an expat in a country where December 25 is a just another date…
The last time I wrote a blog post, the sun was beating down as I panted out of breath having run a sprightly kilometre in a ‘snug’ grey suit. Two stylish chaps strolled down the path in front of me, so effortlessly smooth and emanating the sort of cool we all wish we had a bit more of. Thankfully they took pity on the hapless foreigner and were charming in their openness as they took photos with me and chatted for a while.
One of them is about the most fashionable men to ever step foot in Tyumen. Ha ha, big deal I hear you say; well he is also now a presenter on Mr Putin’s grand new TV sports channel, Match TV, having also been called up to one of Guus Hiddink’s Russia squads a few years back. Evgeniy Savin is the sort of man who could look cool in a bin bag and a bowler hat, but he doesn’t conform to the largely true stereotype of the disconnected, arrogant and self-obsessed Russian football superstar. He runs a youth tournament every year wherever his career takes him, and last summer he spent a lot of time with the hundreds of kids who came to Tyumen as they played for the Kubok Savina (won by “Tyumen-2003” = under 12s, since you ask). He even found time to speak to the grey-suited foreigner again.
The other, meanwhile, is entertaining thousands in Brazil on a weekly basis. His arrival was a real culture shock; a Brazilian with actual talent and reasonable pedigree playing in Tyumen was not something we have been used to. Every time he touched the ball, something unique happened which either created an opening or at least put us on the edge of our seats. Cleyton by name, genius by nature. Will we see his like again? Well possibly, yes; only four places off the playoff places with a game in hand and with Spartak reserves – currently just above FC Tyumen in the table – unable to be promoted, the omens are promising for a dramatic end to the season. The mouth-watering prospect of top flight football down the road awaits.
Why am I mentioning these two players again? They have both moved on from our humble town to pursue what they wanted to do; Cleyton is now back in his homeland, Savin is in front of the national TV cameras, and neither are stuck in limbo. Little did they know it at the time, but when they stopped and were so open to me, they lodged a mental note in my head to follow their paths. Much as I admired them on the pitch, they were both clearly not made for the environment Tyumen offered for different reasons, so the fact that they got off their ‘zhopas’ and did something about it is inspiring. To me at least.
My brother-in-law is an example of this ruthless pursuit of self-improvement that I find common in many Russians. Like 90% of the population in my adopted home town, he qualified as an engineer, but not satisfied with an office job and little prospect of career progression, he took the bold move at a time when the rouble was beginning to fall faster and faster to find a new job that involved moving hundreds of kilometres away from his family, and worked so hard he was awarded a prize in recognition of his progress.
The number of hours worked by the average Russian is, to me, astonishing. University students often work full time jobs in conjunction with studying with 30 contact hours a week. I had 11 weekly hours on my schedule at University, and I struggled to make half of those sometimes, yet alone hold down a 9 to 5 at the same time. What is curious is the surprise local people show me when I say how hard I think Russians work; my students and friends tell me that while many of their compatriots work long hours, they don’t always use them efficiently. The thing is, I used to do neither – unless fine-tuning my team on Football Manager counts as productive. No? Oh well. I might just fit in here after all…
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*After an enforced hiatus from Andrewmijflint.com due to technical reasons – I forgot my password – Tyumen Musings and all my other personal views will be posted here. The name ‘An Englishman in Siberia’ has been permitted by the very kind James Brooks, who has written a brilliant account of life as (you guessed it) a fellow countryman in this vast region which can be found at http://www.siberia.eclipse.co.uk. My personal favourite story is of how he met his future wife via a tramp and a bus stop, but please do discover his adventures in Chita and beyond for yourself.