Thursday, 12 February 2009

Rage in Almaty

If I ever get this text onto my blog, and google has not shut me down thru inactivity, there will be a period of nearly three months of not only sporadic posting, but increasingly desperate whinges about the Internet here.

Oh my god. Honestly, I don’t think that the government of any country should let people run internet services as they do in this place. You have to basically pay by the Megabite of usage. Like you listen to the radio and get charged according to how many songs you enjoy. Or watch TV and are charged by the programme for the pleasure (although if you subscribe to BBC Entertainment I actually think that they should pay you to watch it since their idea of prime time “entertainment” consists of re-runs of the “Weakest Link” - pathetic). It is not just down to bandwidth speed. You are given a connection speed, which ranges from dial up speed to 2048 bpm. But then you have to pay more based on your usage. The fastest connection with unlimited usage from one of the suppliers we were quoted from is more than US$4000 per month!!!!!

 People are regularly telling us that they spend more than $800 a month on the internet.


This is daylight ROBBERY.

It makes me so mad. I think I am suffering culture shock. I had a rage attack last weekend when I went to the Mega Centre which is Almaty’s shopping mall, pretending to be like a real shopping centre with some particularly irritating quirks.

I had to go there to get the kids new school shoes (and to pay at least 25% more than we would pay for the same shoes at home, and with the choice of one shoe each since the shops carry no stock and they never have what you want, you have to just pretty much take what you can get). After getting them (“why are you moaning?”, I hear my local friends ask, “You got shoes, right? In one place? You didn’t have to go to four or five different places and eventually buy them in Louis Vuitton? Hey, chill out”) we had to go to the supermarket, Ramstore, also one of the world’s most annoying supermarkets since their stock is so variable and unreliable (in the Cyrillic script it looks like “PamCToP” so if you are ever faced with the choice between, say, PamCToP and a luxury Waitrose, you will know which one to choose (clue: NOT PamCToP!)). One time we went and they didn’t have ANY chicken for sale. This time, they were only missing small things like maple syrup and baby milk for 12 months plus, so as usual I had to spend the same money to buy the wrong type of baby milk for Connie, but never mind. You can never be organized and plan to go to Ramstore once in a week with a list and expect to get everything you want because they will NEVER have it.

Going from the shoe shop to the Ramstore involves descending one floor of the mall, but with a pushchair. There are three escalators but only one lift which is located at the opposite end of the mall from the shop we were in. And since, for seven years, I have moved my kids up and down escalators all over the world in their pushchair without incident, I opted to go down the escalator with Connie in her pushchair rather than walk the extra 5 minutes along the mall to the lift.

I hadn’t seen the sign not allowing this, and it turns out it is prohibited to descend au stroller (I know now this) but we started to go down it. Then a really irate security guard came running over as we started to descend and grabbed hold of the pushchair and started trying to pull it back up the moving escalator, saying, I presume, something along the lines of “Oi, you’re not allowed to take that on there,”. I was stunned at this outrageously stupid and dangerous thing to do, so I started yelling at him, something along the lines of “F*** off, what on earth do you think you are doing you total moron, get off my pushchair or there is going to be serious accident here,” This interchange was in Russian so the words used were approximations but the sentiments were very clear!

He saw and understood the look in my eyes, a dangerous blend of angry mother bear and woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, because he backed off. But he was so incensed at my breaking of the rule, that he went scuttling back up the escalator and pressed the button to stop it working entirely, leaving us stuck half way down. While he was glaring at me with a  mixture of hatred and contempt, I was actually checking to make sure I still had a child in the pushchair and she hadn’t accidentally fallen over the edge of the escalator!  But once he had pressed the button I was pretty much completely stumped. What did he think was going to happen now? We were going to base jump over the edge of the escalator with the stroller, just for thrills? Far too exciting. Wearily, I asked the older kids to carry the shopping bags and picked up the pushchair myself and carried it down the escalator. Much safer than just riding down and strolling off… NOT.

Which brings me back to why I was talking about Mega Centre, which was partly  because the actions of the security guard were so inept. But then we still had to go to Ramstore. Before we went in we had to check our bags into the lockers they have for this purpose (they assume all their customers are thieves and so practically strip search you before you enter the store), then we had to take the pushchair with us because they don’t have any trolleys with baby seats which is also inconvenient.

We did our shopping, paid up, took our shopping down a travelator (lucky not another escalator to negotiate!) and out to the car which was parked in one of the furthest points from the door to the stores.

Loaded up the car, got the kids in their seats, then decided to take the trolley back to the other trolleys, not particularly out of a sense that I wanted to be community minded and help out, but more that I had had such a rubbish afternoon that I would be buggered if I was going to give the holding company another dollar of my money for making me suffer their shit mall. In most places that force you to put a deposit in a trolley for the privilege of giving them your money in the shops, there are many easily accessible trolley drop off places dotted about the car park so that you don’t have to walk miles to drop off your trolley. But not Mega Centre. They are so focused on getting that extra dollar out of every one who parks their cars there, that they force you to walk all the way back to the door to park your trolley, but which time you think that you are not going to be able to get out of the car park because too much time will have elapsed between paying your parking and leaving through the lever thing. (I do know that this was stupid on my part, and I should have just abandoned the trolley with my dollar in it, and left it for the poor trolley boy to collect and get a small tip for doing so, but I just couldn’t at that point. I was marching around like an idiot “on a point of principle”… yawn at myself for being such a numpty.)

But what really annoys me about the trip to Mega was not so much the blatant lack of service, and total profiteering (it is a shopping mall after all and was only set up to make money for the owners, so I can accept that) but the really depressing thing is that the Mega centre is the only shopping centre in Almaty. And all the middle class Kazakh families go there, go bowling, eat in the restaurants, watch movies and do that “hanging out at the mall” thing, and seem to think they are getting a good experience. When the reality is totally different. They have hardly any choice, the customer service is terrible, most of the shops sell grossly over priced, out of date stock and hold no reserves so you nearly always have to compromise on what you wanted to buy. It is also daylight robbery, not only from your purse, but of your spirit. It saps one’s strength to carry on. And they just accept it. And in fact, probably think it is quite good. I find that depressing.

And so now, after another week or so of suffering the lack of internet connectivity (which may also be down to my lap top, I am not sure) we are now having to consider taking out an internet service which will cost us nearly $500 to install, and nearly $700 per month to use. And this also sticks in my throat. I am not happy to accept this. The internet is not a luxury and should not be priced as a luxury. My husband has a well-paid job and we should not be noticing the cost of the internet as a major expense in our household bills, but it is going to cost us as much as hiring a full time nanny to get it in the house. And what is more… there is ZERO choice of suppliers for us, until KazTelecom upgrade our telephone line.

This is all really annoying to me, especially in a credit crunch, when our income is not guaranteed and we will all likely make less than we hoped this year.  And I don’t understand why people here accept this, and why the newspapers are not full of stories of this crookery going on in our midst every single day of the year. It is outrageous.

I don’t want to go giving thousands of dollars away to some opportunistic company, which, as my husband described, are using a “rape” strategy – since presumably, with competition, these outrageous rates are unsustainable. How I long for them to go out of business, but not until I have transferred my account to a cheaper server available once I have the new telephone line!

OK rant over. Maybe next time I write on my blog I will be able to upload it straight away on my new internet line.

Off to bed now, but unfortunately without a shower, since our hot water has stopped working. 

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