The strangers I met in Russia (Part 1): My landlord

“His name is Anatoly,” my buddy in Sochi, Aleksandr, introduced the landlord to me.

Anatoly lived in an old building in the suburb area of Sochi, which was only 15-minute far from the city centre by bus. The gate of his building was rotted, and walking up the stairs with an awful smell was an unforgettable experience.

Like some “typical” old men, Anatoly was concerned about many things, from my daily schedule to my use of electricity and the potential damage to his house. He didn’t give me the key and he expected me to inform him of my return time at least an hour before. There was no lock in my room but a guy living in my balcony. He literally walked pass my room everyday.

If I lock everything, everything should be okay. I told myself.

Before I left Hong Kong, I bought a box of Chinese fine tea for my landlord in Russia. I gave it to Anatoly, hoping to gain his trust and good impression of me. He replied with a great smile and put his hand on my shoulder. “That’s the Soviet way of expressing friendship,” Aleksandr said.

My first evening at Anatoly’s place seemed uneasy for both of us. At first, I couldn’t find my way back from the bus stop. Without a key, I could only ring the bell of every flat to see if I found the right place. Neighbors seemed horrified by a stranger from China and that probably because they had never met a Chinese in-person.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. After several trials, I was back to Anatoly’s place. Anatoly checked every item I got from the supermarket. He put my stuffs in the refrigerator, one by one, to the exact place that he wanted. I first took a shower, turned off the light and then lay down on bed.

All of a sudden, the light was on. Anatoly came in and checked what I was  doing.

Perhaps he has gone through a difficult time, so he has such a strong sense of anxiety and insecurity. I tried my best to put myself in his shoes.  

It was 7 am. I woke up, because Anatoly came in again and see if I am awake. As a result, I was woken by him.

Fine. I went to kitchen and made my breakfast. To avoid touching his stuffs, I had bread and coffee for the morning. He sat opposite to me and kept looking how I ate my breakfast as if I were a prisoner. He spoke Russian to me, with a lot of body gesture, and he said he would keep his eyes to my luggage. Still, I was back to my room and locked everything before I left the house.

I don’t get used to the lack of privacy. I told Aleksandr.

Aleksandr promised to talk to the landlord. A few hours later, I got the message from Aleksandr: “You will move out tomorrow.”

        Why so sudden? Was I overreacting? Did I say something wrong?

With numerous questions in mind, I was back to Anatoly’s house. He looked at me in a strange way. No, he stared at me. I went to shower and I realised that he stopped the supply of warm water. When I started packing my luggage again, he checked every single thing that I put in my bag.

He pointed at the clothes-rack, which I got from Hong Kong for my suit. I explain to him but he insisted on getting it ‘back’. Obviously the plastic purple clothes-rack did not look consistent to what he had in the room. I let him take it as I still had my empathy to this insecure old man.

Do not let him talk about the rent with you. We had an agreement already. I kept the reminder from Aleksandr in mind.

I wrote the landlord a note in Russian, with the help of an online translator: If you don’t mind, please feel free to eat my stuffs in refrigerator. I won’t carry all these with me. I appreciate your hospitality but I don’t get used to a life without privacy.

Anatoly didn’t seem appreciative and he started talking about money to me. I was pissed off: what’s the point of talking about the money to me in Russian, that I know nothing about the language and the agreement he shares with Aleksandr? I went back to the room and closed the door. After a few seconds, he opened the door and shouted at me in Russian.

This is my house; don’t ever think about closing the door.

Despite my inability to understand Russian, his message was very clear. Everything just happened looked so unreal but the horrifying feelings were so real.

Aleksandr arrived, and the whole drama was over.

“The landlord doesn’t like that you take shower twice a day as he only take once a week,” Aleksandr said, “the landlord also expects an extra charge with less quality of service because you are not Russian.”

While the bus was on its way to the city, I looked back and I saw Anatoly’s building vanishing in my horizon. Undoubtedly, Anatoly was a pathetic person, who lived in insecurity and sense of suspicion all the time. And yet he didn’t  deserve my empathy; after all, he doesn’t share the mentality that one should be kind to each other.

The nightmare is over. I told Aleksandr.

Yes, the nightmare for me was over, but not for Anatoly. He would keep feeling the same when newcomers come to his place. I wondered if he believed that he could keep the flat even in his afterlife? If yes, that would be a tragedy –his strong insecurity would last forever no matter he was alive or death.

Amen.

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About Brian Yeung

Growing up in Hong Kong, pearl of the orient, I have been exposed to many cultures throughout my upbringing, from Sushi to British Top Talents and Tetris. And yet, after my stay in Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia for study and work, I realise a lot of cultural perception and presentation are just myths and stereotypes. Exploring the real accent of a particular country and its culture becomes my agenda of traveling. I value travel as a way to discover the diversity of life choices. After all, life is just the consequence of our many life choices; the one who is aware of its diversity is the luckiest person alive.

2 comments

  1. Hey Brian,
    Sorry you had to experience that. We’ve all gone through that horrible renting experience. Did it affect your view of the city in any way?
    – Jo

    • Thanks Jo. It is still a valuable experience, especially when one is in a foreign country. By the way, my Russian trip was half a year ago. I only manage to write about my experiences now…

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