02 October 2007

Visiting Kiev: a few more observations

The Ukrainian health plan

Despite eating a much more meat-heavy diet over there than I normally do at home, I lost five pounds during my trip. I attribute this to having cut way back on snacks, and to the fact that I was typically walking three to six miles per day. Well, those are lessons I can apply back here.

$4,371.17

That was the total cost of my trip. This was probably inflated by my insistence on flying only on an American airline and on American-built planes. However, if I'm going to be sealed into a giant tin can and sent hurtling through the sky at several hundred miles per hour, I want to be confident that the workmanship and maintenance on that tin can are the best available (as opposed to, for example, the stuff these goofballs build). Besides, I don't trust foreign-run airlines to enforce no-smoking rules.

Throwing it away

Storefront gambling parlors touting roulette and other games were everywhere; obviously these are legal in Ukraine. Though I oppose laws against such businesses, I found their abundance in a relatively poor country rather sad. Very likely, many of those who waste their money in such places are those who can least afford to lose it.

The beautiful people, take 2

Being back home for a few days, I've been forcefully reminded of another reason Ukrainians are better-looking than Americans: they don't deliberately do things to make themselves ugly. During my entire three weeks in Kiev I didn't see a single tattoo -- not one. And I saw only one person with a piercing. In the US, of course, these repulsive self-disfigurements are depressingly common.

I should also note what is locally referred to as the devushka ("young lady") style of dress, which I would describe as a sort of sexed-up girl-next-door look. Miniskirts were common, as were plunging necklines displaying startling amounts of cleavage. Even after falling temperatures brought out lower hemlines and jeans, it was common for short (or artfully tied) tops to leave at least a couple of inches of midriff bare. So even when no interesting buildings were in view (which is rarely the case in Kiev, actually), there was plenty of sightseeing available.

Getting the most for your kopeks

Though housing is ridiculously expensive (at least in the Kiev city center), most other things seemed to be quite cheap. Bus fare was the equivalent of ten cents. A basket of groceries always cost noticeably less than it would have in the US. A one-liter bottle of good-quality beer at a street kiosk was about a dollar, and I saw packs of cigarettes priced at a dollar and lower. A good lunch including appetizer, beer on tap, and tip, at the kind of restaurant where the waitresses wear uniforms and actually know which fork goes with which course, was $10 to $25 depending on the type of place. I was actually surprised at how slowly I was spending money. On the other hand, many businesses seemed to have terrible difficulty making change, and I often ended up rummaging for coins to pay the exact amount.

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